Screening and Early Detection to Protect Yourself from Lung Cancer

Lung cancer’s five-year survival rate is lower than any other leading cancer. The survival rate becomes significantly higher when the disease is caught early, and the cancer is still localized within the lungs, making screening and early detection crucial.

Am I at increased risk for lung cancer?

Both genetic and non-genetic factors play roles in increasing a person’s risk of developing any type of cancer, including lung cancer. Lung cancer has been mainly associated with smokers. However, some non-smokers may have a genetic disposition for the disease, including people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Beyond cigarette smoking, there also are environmental factors that have been associated with the development of lung cancer, including exposure to secondhand smoke, air pollution, significant asbestos inhalation, and radon exposure. People with lung diseases such as tuberculosis also are more susceptible to lung cancer.

Should I get lung cancer screening?

Since lung cancer screening comes with certain risks, such as low radiation exposure risk, it is not recommended for everyone. The American Cancer Society, US Preventive Services Task Force, and the American Academy of Family Physicians recommend annual lung cancer screening for people who are:

  • 50 – 80 years old
  • Current smokers who have at least a 20-pack-yearsmoking history
  • Former smokers who had at least a 20-pack-year smoking history 

A 20-pack-year is not to be confused with smoking 20 cigarette packs a year. A “pack-year” is smoking one pack of cigarettes each day for a year. Therefore, you would have a 20 pack-year smoking history if you smoke one pack of cigarettes every day for 20 years or if you smoke two packs of cigarettes every day for ten years.

Lung cancer screening is for you if you fall under these categories, are in fairly good health, and do not have symptoms of the disease.

What to Expect During a Lung Cancer Screening?

Currently, there is only one recommended screening test to detect lung cancer at a treatable stage – low-dose computed tomography (LDCT). If you are eligible for screening, your doctor will write an order for the LDCT scan, which uses 3-D imaging technology to capture detailed, cross-sectional images of your lungs.

The procedure is painless, non-invasive, and generally takes less than 10 minutes to complete. The scan itself may only take a minute. Before you go into the LDCT machine to be scanned, the technician will ask you to remove any metal objects, such as jewelry, watches, and hairpins, and change into a hospital gown. You will lie on your back and move through the LDCT scanner, which looks like a large box with a short tunnel in the center. The table that you lay on will slide through the machine. The technician will advise you to hold your breath for 5-10 seconds during the scanning process. This is because any motion, including breathing, may disrupt the scan and blur the image. After the scan, you can go about your day as you normally would.

To learn more about lung cancer screening, prevention, and treatment, contact Tampa Bay Radiation Oncology. At Tampa Bay Radiation Oncology, more than a thousand men and women diagnosed with cancer each year turn to our trusted team of cancer specialists. We encourage you to call us, ask us a question, or consult with us to get a second opinion so you, too, can experience the difference.