About 90 percent of lung cancer cases are from smoking, and the five-year surgical rate is pretty dismal. A little more than half survive past five years if their cancer hasn’t spread yet when found, but that drops to less than one in five if it has spread.
Only about 15 percent of patients get it diagnosed at an early stage. If we can find it and treat it at the early stage we can have a better cure rate.
While screenings exist for breast, colon, and other cancers, until four years ago there was no recommended reoccurring screening for patients at risk for lung cancer. Lung cancer screening patients who receive a low dose CT scan are 20 percent less likely to die from lung cancer than with standard screening chest X-rays.
You should get screened if you’re between the ages of 55 and 80, a current smoker or quit smoking within the last 15 years, and have a 30 pack-year smoking history. (Pack-years are packs per day times the number of years you smoked. So, if you’ve smoked one pack a day for 30 years, or two packs a day for 15 years, you fit the criteria.) Studies show that you’re still at increased risk for lung cancer even 15 years after you’ve quit smoking.
A low-dose CT scan is the only reliable screening method. With a chest X-ray, you often can’t see nodules that are close to the heart or other organs. Some nodules are very small and the X-ray is not as sensitive in finding small nodules. The smaller the nodule, the more likely it is to be cured.
The benefits of lung cancer screening are clear. You’re more likely to have small nodules detected so you can start the treatment process earlier than if you wait for symptoms. The goal of screening is to detect disease at a stage when it is not causing symptoms and when treatment is most successful.
Talk to your doctor if you’re a current or former smoker between the ages of 55 and 80 to see if a screening is right for you.