Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the United States. More people die of lung cancer than of colon, breast and prostate cancer combined. “Lung cancer screening, which is done by an annual low-dose computed tomography (CT) scan of the chest, is the only reliable way to detect lung cancer at an earlier and more-treatable stage. Screening has been shown to reduce the risk of dying from lung cancer by 20 percent,” Dr. Andy Waller, pulmonologist with Blount Memorial Physicians Group – Pulmonology said. Lung cancer screening has the potential to reduce the number of deaths from lung cancer by as much as 80 percent if lung cancer is found at an early stage, before symptoms are likely to be present, but when treatment could be curative.
Typically, by the time lung cancer becomes symptomatic, it is already at an advanced stage. The survival rate at five years for stage III lung cancer is approximately 30 percent, but that goes down to a five percent survival rate for stage IV. However, stage I lung cancer has a survival rate of 70 to 90 percent, which is why screening is so important. “The first national recommendation for lung cancer screening came out in 2013 and Medicare has covered it since 2015. Despite this, less than a third of patients who are eligible are actually getting screened,” Waller added.
What happens during a lung cancer screening? It only takes a few minutes, and no down time is required. A CT machine moves around your body taking multiple pictures of the lungs from different angles. The table you’re lying on slowly moves inside the CT scanner while it takes the necessary images. An imaging technician talks to you during the scan to let you know you’re not alone and remind you to lie still. It’s completely painless and doesn’t require any type of injection, medication or sedative. You can go home or back to work right after the scan and perform all your normal activities.
“Lung cancer screening can be ordered by the patient’s primary care physician or specialty physician. Patients ages 50 to 80 who are actively smoking or have quit within the last 15 years and have smoked the equivalent of one pack per day for 20 years are eligible for screening,” Waller explained. To be screened for lung cancer, patients need to discuss it with their physician and have a counseling visit. The purpose of the counseling visit is to verify certain criteria are met and that the patient doesn’t have symptoms of lung cancer that would warrant a different type of evaluation. Then, benefits and risks of lung cancer screening are discussed. “The main risk from a CT scan is radiation exposure. However, a CT scan’s radiation exposure is less than half the amount of natural radiation we are all exposed to in the environment over the course of a year,” Waller said. If you are a smoker, have a history of smoking or have a family history of lung cancer, consider asking your physician about lung cancer screening.
For more information or to schedule an appointment with Blount Memorial Physicians Group – Pulmonology, call 865-980-5100.