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Lung cancer screening

Lung cancer can be serious. However, some people with early stage lung cancer can be successfully treated. This is because tests and treatments for cancer are being studied and improved. If lung cancer is found at an earlier stage when it is small and before it has spread, people have a better chance of living longer.

Who is at risk

Age, total exposure to tobacco smoke, and years since quitting smoking are important risk factors for lung cancer. Other risk factors include specific occupational exposures, radon exposure, family history, and history of pulmonary fibrosis or chronic obstructive lung disease.

If you think you are at risk for lung cancer, talk to your doctor about being screened.

Symptoms

When symptoms are present, they are different in each person, but may include:

  • A cough that doesn't go away and gets worse over time
  • Hoarseness
  • Constant chest pain
  • Shortness of breath or wheezing
  • Frequent lung infections such as bronchitis or pneumonia
  • Coughing up blood

See your doctor right away if you notice any of these symptoms.

What you can do

  • Smoking cessation is the most important intervention to prevent lung cancer.
  • Get your home tested for radon.

Radon

Preventive service at no cost

Adults Aged 55-80, with a History of Smoking

The USPSTF recommends annual screening for lung cancer with low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) in adults aged 55 to 80 years who have a 30 pack-year smoking history and currently smoke or have quit within the past 15 years. Screening should be discontinued once a person has not smoked for 15 years or develops a health problem that substantially limits life expectancy or the ability or willingness to have curative lung surgery. 


Why screening is important

Usually symptoms of lung cancer don’t appear until the disease is already at an advanced, non-curable stage. Even if lung cancer does cause symptoms, many people may mistake them for other problems, such as an infection or long-term effects from smoking. This may delay the diagnosis.

Lung cancer is the third most common cancer and the leading cause of cancer death in the United States. Lung cancer has a poor prognosis, and most people with lung cancer die of the disease. However, early-stage diagnosis has a better prognosis and can be treated with surgery.

What the screening is

Low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) is currently the only recommended screening test for lung cancer. In this test, an X-ray machine scans the body and uses low doses of radiation to make detailed pictures of the lungs.

Is Lung Cancer Screening Right for Me?

Treatment

Surgery is the current standard of care for localized non-small cell lung cancer. This type of cancer is treated with surgical resection when possible and also with radiation and chemotherapy. Choosing the treatment that is right for you may be hard. Talk to your cancer doctor about the treatment options available for your type and stage of cancer. Your doctor can explain the risks and benefits of each treatment and their side effects.

Additional tips

Lung cancer screening has at least three risks—

  • A lung cancer screening test can suggest that a person has lung cancer when no cancer is present. This is called a false-positive result. False-positive results can lead to follow-up tests and surgeries that are not needed and may have more risks.
  • A lung cancer screening test can find cases of cancer that may never have caused a problem for the patient. This is called overdiagnosis. Overdiagnosis can lead to treatment that is not needed.
  • Radiation from repeated LDCT tests can cause cancer in otherwise healthy people.

Additional resources