Lung cancer. It’s a frightening diagnosis but there are screening options that can detect the disease before it can spread to other parts of the body. Understanding screening options and risk factors can help you make more informed decisions with your doctor.
Lung cancer is the second most common cancer in both men and women. According to recent statistics on lung cancer for 2021, there have been 235,760 new cases reported and 131,880 deaths so far. This form of cancer is more prevalent in people under 65 years old, but younger people can still develop the disease. With such alarming statistics on lung cancer, it’s essential to talk with your doctor about getting a lung cancer screening if you may be at risk.
One of the first tests that a doctor will perform to check for lung cancer is a chest x-ray. If there is something suspicious found, the doctor will order more tests. One such test to check for lung cancer is the low dose computed tomography (CT) scan.
Lung cancer screening is a method of detecting lung cancer when there are no known symptoms or family history of the disease.
Doctors use a low-dose CT (LDCT) scan to check for the presence of the disease. If the disease is in its early stages, detecting it with the CT scan makes it easier for doctors to recommend effective treatments. The drawback of the LDCT scan is that it may produce a false positive. 12-14% of scans can return readings that appear to look like cancer but aren't. If the scan reveals abnormalities, your doctor may want to perform more tests to confirm that the abnormalities are cancer.
This test may include but are not limited to:
needle biopsy – doctors remove a small sample of tissue from a suspicious area using a hollow needle
There are many ways to check for lung cancer. However, a lung cancer screening will be one of a doctor’s first lines of defense to spot suspicious masses that may be cancer-forming. Also, many healthcare and Medicare plans cover lung cancer screenings but eligibility criteria varies from plan to plan.
Your doctor will send you to a radiologist to have a lung screening performed. If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, you’ll need to notify your healthcare provider before continuing with the exam. You’ll also need to inform the radiologist if you’re allergic to any medications. Although rare, allergic reactions to the radiotracer used in the test can occur. The radiologist will have you remove all jewelry and watches and change into a gown.
During the screening, you’ll lie on the LDCT, and a low radiation X-ray machine will capture images of your lungs. The scan can be either ventilation or perfusion. Ventilation will check how air moves in and out of your lungs, while perfusion checks how the blood moves throughout your lungs.
If you have the ventilation test, you will have to breathe in a gas that has a tracer in it. For the perfusion test, the radiologist places an IV in your arm, allowing the tracer to enter. The tracer sends out gamma rays to help the scanner take images of your lungs.
The LDCT will check for the presence of blood clots or masses known as emboli in your lungs. Such suspicious growths could indicate that tumors are present. The lung screening only takes a few minutes and is non-invasive.
You might be wondering if you should get a lung cancer screening. Unlike many diagnostic screening procedures, the risks associated with a lung cancer screening are particularly high. The radiation exposure could cause you to develop breast, lung, or thyroid cancer later in life.
Experts recommend that those from high-risk groups speak with their doctor to help make an informed decision about getting lung cancer screenings. High-risk patients include anyone over 65, along with those over 50 who are healthy current or former smokers.
Although half the people diagnosed with lung cancer are 70 years of age or older and the typical age of death from lung cancer is 72, it does not mean that you are not at risk.
Below are a few lung cancer screening guidelines for those who may be high risk:
You have regular exposure to second-hand smoke
This isn’t an exhaustive list of risk factors. However, these risk factors are the most common. If you are in one of these high-risk groups, you may need to discuss lung cancer screening with your doctor.
The unfortunate thing about lung cancer is that once you start to exhibit symptoms, it is likely that the disease has progressed in your body. Some common symptoms are:
Constant infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia
If you have a family history of lung cancer or have recently quit smoking, there are some ways that you can take preventative actions against lung cancer. One of the most effective ways to prevent lung cancer is to eat a healthy diet full of fruits and vegetables. Another equally effective way to avoid lung cancer is to stay away from tobacco. A few other lifestyle changes that can help prevent lung cancer include minimizing your exposure to carcinogens and checking your home for radon and reducing exposure to it.
Lung cancer is the leading cause of death from cancer. However, it does not have to be a death sentence if you address it early. If you feel that you are at risk, you should talk to your doctor about whether getting lung cancer screening may be right for you If a doctor discerns from the screening and other tests that the cancer is in the early stages, there may be treatment options.
References Key Statistics for Lung Cancer Who Should Be Screened for Lung Cancer? Lung cancer screening Lung Scan What to Expect from a Lung Cancer Screening Tests for Lung Cancer Is Lung Cancer Screening Right for Me? Why should you get a lung cancer screening test? Lung Cancer Risk Factors Can Lung Cancer Be Prevented?