The Lung Cancer Screening that can Save Your Life

January 08, 2020

If you were a heavy smoker for decades, you may have a nagging concern about developing lung cancer. Lung cancer is the second most common type of cancer and the leading cause of cancer deaths in both men and women, according to the American Cancer Society. Eighty percent of those deaths are believed to be caused by smoking.

The good news is that for heavy smokers, there is a screening tool, the Low Dose CT scan (LDCT), that can detect lung cancer early and increase your chances of survival. And if you meet the criteria for this screening, all you have to do is get a prescription for LDCT from your physician.

Unfortunately, less than 4% of people who are eligible for this lung cancer screening are actually getting it, according to the American Cancer Society, and that’s something the team at Advanced Shore Imaging in Northfield wants to help change. The imaging center has been providing Low Dose CT scans since it opened in 2016, but more awareness and understanding is needed to help increase screening rates and ultimately improve outcomes for people with lung cancer.

Advanced Shore Imaging Radiologist Dr. Alicia Daniels, recommends, “Anyone who meets the criteria for the Low Dose CT for Lung Cancer should be screened.  We are able to find nodules at the earliest stage when they are most treatable.”  She encourages patients to advocate for themselves with their primary care physician or pulmonologist to request a script for LDCT.

Of course, quitting smoking is the best way to reduce your risk of developing lung cancer. It is never too late to stop, and the benefits of quitting smoking are almost immediate. But still, the risk of developing lung cancer is greater for heavy smokers, past or present, and screening is strongly recommended for those who meet the criteria, detailed below.

Who Should Get a LDCT?
Because LDCTs can produce false positives that lead to more invasive and sometimes unnecessary testing, screening is only recommended for those who are at greatest risk of developing lung cancer and meet the following criteria:

  1. Be 55-77 years of age for Medicare coverage, or age 55-80 for private insurance
  2. Have no signs or symptoms of lung cancer
  3. Smoked one pack a day for 30 years, 2 packs a day for 15 years or a combination equal to a 30 pack history
  4. Be a current smoker or have quit within the last 15 years
  5. Have a written order for LDCT from a qualified health professional, following a lung cancer screening counseling session that attests shared decision-making took place before their first screening CT.

The LDCT is a simple, painless test. You lie on a table that moves through the center of a machine which takes several X-rays of your entire chest. You may be asked to hold your breath for 5 to 10 seconds while the images are being taken. The scan takes less than a minute.

Risks and Rewards
While the LDCT is painless, if your test does indicate a positive result, you will likely need to undergo more complex procedures to diagnose and further treat you – but it’s important to remember that early detection finds cancer when it is most treatable.  That is why the last eligibility point mentioned above is so important. Having a formal counseling session with your doctor about all of the risks and benefits of Low Dose CT is not only required, but vital to your successful outcome.