Lung cancer screening is carried out on high risk but healthy patients to detect cancer. It is a regular practice done to detect cancer in its early stages for a successful treatment plan. Lung cancer begins in the lungs and mostly occurs in smokers or those exposed to second-hand smoke. A family history of the disease and exposure to certain toxins may also increase the risks of contracting lung cancer. Because heavy smokers are the most at-risk of getting cancer, most initial screenings target them, especially when they are asymptomatic.
Who Should be Screened for Lung Cancer?
As mentioned earlier, smokers or those exposed to second-hand smoke are at a higher risk of developing lung cancer. Who should be screened:
If You Quit Heavy Smoking in the Recent Past
If you were a heavy smoker for a long time but have stopped, you may consider getting screened for lung cancer. The effects of smoking may still be felt long after stopping the habit. However, risk factors decrease over the years. If you have been clean for at least 15 years and have already undergone several tests, you may be safe.
Older Adults Who Are Former Smokers
If you are 50 or older and have quit smoking but were a heavy smoker in the recent past, you should get screened. Doctors consider those with a 20 pack-year history to be at the highest risk. This means that you smoked at least one pack a day for more than 20 years, two packs a day for more than 10 years or you still smoke heavily.
Studies show that the test is more beneficial to people between 50 and 80 who smoke heavily or have quit within the past 15 years. According to studies, out of 1,000 heavy smokers or those who have quit within the last 15 years and aged between 50 and 80 years, three may have early signs of cancer that can be diagnosed and successfully treated. However, 18 others may not survive after the cancer diagnosis.
It’s important to note that up to 30,000 Americans who never smoked are diagnosed with cancer every year. This makes testing very critical, but the assuring part is that 8 of 10 people who get it are smokers. Sadly, symptoms of lung cancer may not be evident until it has advanced to critical stages.
How is Lung Cancer Screened?
First, the doctor qualifies you as a high-risk patient before approving the test. An LCDT (low dose computed tomography) scan is the recommended form of screening. The test uses low energy radiation to capture images of the lungs. During the test, the patient lies on a table and the X-ray machine is positioned above the chest to take the images. You may have to remove your clothes and jewelry then put on the hospital gown for a better diagnosis. The preparation process takes about 15 minutes.
You should arrive at least 30 minutes before the scheduled test. This allows you enough time to take care of any paperwork and familiarise yourself with the facility before the test. The test may take up to one hour, depending on the complexity, but 15 minutes are usually enough. Crucial to note is that the test is not painful and does not cause any known discomfort. If you have copies of any chest scans done before, you can bring them to the facility for comparison. Additionally, if you have any chest problems, it’s important to inform the doctor before the test.
Lung cancer screening is a quick process that doesn’t require a lot of preparation. The most important consideration is to get a facility that specializes in lung cancer screening. Such a center should conduct several tests every day and have FDA-approved equipment for an accurate diagnosis.
Who Might Not Be Eligible for the Screening?
Not everyone should go for cancer screening. If you are past 80 years of age, the risks of getting cancer decrease; therefore, you may not need the test. If you have any chest infections or suffer from other serious conditions, you may not be eligible for the screening. Also, the risk factors decrease with the duration you have not been smoking.
What You Should Know About Lung Cancer Screening
Although the objective is to identify cancer cells early enough before an advanced stage, there may be risks or concerns associated with the screening. The first risk is that you will be exposed to radiation, although in small amounts. Repeated exposure to radiation through screening can cause cancer. However, the benefits far outweigh the concerns for high-risk individuals.
There is also the chance of a false positive outcome. This happens when the screening results indicate that you may have cancer, but you are healthy. Chances of getting a false negative are reduced with modern, highly efficient cancer diagnosis equipment. The more reason you should only rely on a facility that relies on modern and efficient technology for screening. However, if the results turn out positive, follow-up tests may need to be carried out.
The screening can also reveal cancer cells that may not have caused any harm because they are slow-growing cells. Because there is no way of knowing whether the cells may be dangerous, you will still have to go through treatment to reduce the risk of the disease spreading. Screening also may lead to finding other conditions that may require medical attention. Incidental findings, although a concern to you, maybe addressed before they cause any meaningful damage.
Regular screening is advised to avoid incidental findings and false positives. Usually, the doctor will compare the latest findings to the previous ones before concluding your health state. If need be, other tests may be conducted before settling for any conclusive diagnosis.
Questions to Ask Your Doctor Before the Screening
If it is your first time to undergo the screening, you should ask the doctor whatever questions you may have to make you feel calm and better prepare for the procedure. Usually, the doctor who recommends the test suggests a facility that offers the service if they don’t have it at the center. It’s important to understand why the doctor recommends the test and why you are at risk of getting lung cancer.
Also, get to know how often the doctor recommends you get the screening. Understand any screening risks involved, how to prepare, and when to expect the results. It’s also important to know how you can lower your risks of getting lung cancer, and if you are still smoking, how the doctor can help you quit.
If the results take longer than the appointed time to be sent to you, it’s important to call the facility. It would be best if you didn’t assume that the results were negative but follow-up to confirm.
How Do You Pay for Screening?
The payment procedure is an important finding which should be done before the test. The Affordable Care Act passed in 2010 makes it mandatory for insurance plans to cover lung cancer screening for high-risk individuals. These are individuals aged 55 to 80 and have a long history of smoking. Your doctor will determine whether you are a high-risk patient or not.
It would help if you talked to your insurance provider to determine whether you are eligible for the coverage. However, you may have to meet costs from your pocket, such as repeated consultation meetings. Talk to your doctor and understand how much you may have to spend to prepare adequately.
What Happens After the Screening?
If there is cause for concern, the doctor may recommend additional tests, including biopsies that test a tissue sample from abnormal cells found in the lungs. If you cough, sputum cytology can be done, which analyzes the sputum under a microscope. A CT scan may also be used to give more details of the condition of lesions in the lungs. If you don’t have cancer, annual screening may be recommended.
After the repeated tests, if it’s concluded that you have cancer, the doctor recommends a favorable treatment plan based on your needs, preferences, and the cancer stage. Further tests may be conducted to determine the cancer stage. The recommended treatment plans may include chemotherapy, radiation, immunotherapy, surgery, and other targeted therapies.
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. The late diagnosis makes it almost impossible to treat it successfully. Early diagnosis and early intervention is the only known technique successful at treating cancer cells before they advance. Because smoking is the leading cause of cancer, not smoking helps reduce risks.
When you smoke, carcinogens found in the cigarette smoke damage the lining of the lungs. The lungs can successfully repair the damage caused by occasional smoking, but the destruction is irreparable with time. The cells in the lungs get malformed and behave abnormally, leading to cancer. Exposure to radon gas, second-hand smoke, radiation, asbestos, and any other known carcinogen may also cause the cells to be malformed.
What Are the Types of Lung Cancer?
Lung cancer is categorized into two, depending on the shape and appearance of the cancer cells. The type also determines the treatment plan. Small cell lung cancer is the most common lung cancer and is found in smokers. Non-small cell lung cancer, the second category, is found in non-smokers.
The Symptoms of Lung Cancer
Early detection of lung cancer leads to successful treatment, but it’s not until it’s in an advanced stage that symptoms develop. These may include a persistent cough, coughing blood, chest pains, hoarseness, headaches, bone pain, unexplained weight loss, and shortness of breath. It’s always crucial to have a persistent cough checked and treated. Usually, all the signs of lung cancer are persistent and do not respond to treatment, but it’s short-term when they do. Therefore, if you have been treating a stubborn cough or chest infection, you need further diagnosis.
To prevent lung cancer, other than not smoking or getting exposed to second-hand smoke, get your house tested for radon level. This is critical if you live in a place where radon is a problem. Additionally, avoid carcinogens such as harmful chemicals and eat more fruits and vegetables. Always use protective gear when handling chemicals to avoid any skin contact or inhaling. Additionally, regular exercise helps keep your lungs strong and in good health.