Are you eligible for a lung cancer CT screening?
Getting the recommended cancer screenings significantly improve your chances for an early diagnosis, and lung cancer is no exception.
Until a few decades ago, lung cancer was most often diagnosed when it had advanced to a later stage because that's when people started noticing symptoms - a chronic cough, chest pain, shortness of breath, and unexplained weight loss.
Now, lung cancer screening with annual low-dose CT scans for those at high risk has reduced the lung cancer death rate by up to 20 percent, according to the American Lung Association.
"We highly encourage those with high-risk factors for lung cancer, such as a history of smoking, family history of lung cancer, or exposure to carcinogens to talk to their primary care provider or pulmonologist about a low-dose lung CT scan," notes Jessica Chitwood, a CT scan technologist at Sentara. "Treating lung cancer early, like all cancers, gives us more hope for a better outcome."
Types of lung cancer
Lung cancer is the second most common cancer in both men and women in the United States (not counting skin cancer). In men, prostate cancer is more widespread, while in women, breast cancer is more prevalent.
Most people diagnosed with lung cancer are 65 or older. A small number of people diagnosed are younger than 45. The average age at diagnosis is about 70.
There are two types of lung cancer, based on the size of the affected cells when viewed under a microscope:
- Non-small cell lung cancer - About 80-85 percent of lung cancers are non-small.
- Small cell lung cancer - About 10-15 percent of all lung cancers are of this type. This type of lung cancer tends to grow and spread faster than non-small cells. In most people with small cell lung cancer, the cancer has already spread beyond the lungs when diagnosed.
Low-dose lung CT
Researchers have been looking into the effectiveness of low-dose CTs for lung cancer detection since the early 1990s. The scans cover the entire chest and provide a more detailed look than a standard chest X-ray.
About 10 years ago, low-dose lung CTs became more widely available and affordable after government approvals and requirements for insurance companies, including Medicare, to cover them.
"This has been a gamechanger in our ability to provide more promising treatments for those diagnosed with lung cancer," Chitwood says. "Low-dose CT scans are noninvasive, painless and once a patient is set up for the scan, it takes less than 30 seconds."
Talk to your doctor about a low-dose lung if:
- You are between 50-80 years old.
- You have a 20-pack-year smoking history (one pack a day for 20 years, two packs a day for 10 years, etc.).
- You are a current smoker or have quit within the last 15 years.
You will need a physician's order to get an appointment for a lung CT.
Lung cancer risk factors
While smoking is the greatest risk factor for developing lung cancer, other factors are exposure to:
- Air pollution
- Certain metals and chemicals
- Closely related family members who have had lung cancer.
- History of lung diseases, such as tuberculosis, emphysema, and chronic bronchitis
- Second-hand smoke
Quitting smoking takes a huge commitment. Sentara Health Plans have designed a free tobacco cessation program called "Get Off Your Butt: Stay Smokeless for Life." The self-paced program includes topics such as nicotine addiction and effective ways to control dependency and addiction. The American Lung Association developed a "Freedom from Smoking" program to help people quit. Talk to your primary care provider about resources to help you create a strategy to quit.
By: Lisa Smith