Lung Cancer and Available Lung Screenings, What to Know

Tuesday, November 02, 2021
Dr. Svien Senne
Dr. Svien Senne

November is lung cancer awareness month.  This is important because lung cancer is a major cause of cancer death in the United States.  Thankfully, experts now agree that individuals at high risk should undergo screening for lung cancer in an attempt to increase the chance of catching lung cancer early when it is more likely to be cured.

In the year 2021, about 235,000 people will be diagnosed with lung cancer and about 131,000 people are expected to die of lung cancer.  Lung cancer is by far the leading cause of cancer death among both men and women, making up almost 25% of all cancer deaths.  Every year, more people die of lung cancer than die of colon, breast, and prostate cancers combined.  Most cases of lung cancer are linked to cigarette smoking.

Cigarette smoking is the #1 risk factor for lung cancer.  In the United States, cigarette smoking is linked to between 80% and 90% of lung cancer deaths.  People who smoke cigarettes are 15-30 times more likely to get lung cancer or die from lung cancer than people who do not smoke. Because of the deadly nature of lung cancer and its prevalence and identifiable risk factors, experts have made recommendations regarding screening for lung cancer. 

Currently, experts recommend a low-dose CT scan (LDCT) for people between the age of 50 and 80 years old, who currently smoke or have smoked in the past 15 years, and who have at least a 20-pack-year smoking history (this is the number of packs of cigarettes per day multiplied by the number of years smoked).  For those at risk, an LDCT makes it possible to detect lung cancer early when it is most treatable and even curable. 

LDCT's are CT scans developed with special protocols for the detection of lung cancer.  The test is fairly quick and easy as you pass through the CT scanner and the test takes less than a few minutes.  It does not involve starting an IV, or being in a small space for a prolonged period of time.  The benefit of LDCT's are that lung cancer screenings find 80% of lung cancer at an early stage when it is more likely to be curable.  Without screening, 70% of lung cancers are found at a later stage when there is little chance for a cure.

The best thing you can do to reduce your risk of lung cancer is to stop smoking.  If you have already done that, or are working on it and think you may qualify for an LDCT, talk to your doctor.  The vast majority of insurance plans cover LDCT's for qualified individuals.  It might save your life.

Written by Dr. Svien Senne, Pulmonologist
Last modified on Thursday, November 04, 2021