Lung Cancer Screening

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Early Diagnosis Lung Cancer Through Screening

Screening for lung cancer involves looking for changes in the lung tissue. Screening is recommended for adults with certain risk factors, including the following:

  • Age 55 – 77; if either current smoker or has quit smoking within the last 15 years
  • Tobacco smoking history averaging one pack a day for 30 years, even without signs or symptoms of lung cancer
  • Written order from a physician or qualified non-physician provider

If lung cancer is suspected, a doctor may require a chest x-ray. If a tumor is present it usually shows up as a white-grey mass on the x-ray film. 

However white-grey spots on an x-ray alone are not definitive of cancer because other conditions also show up as a white-gray, for example, lung abscess. 

The only recommended screening test for lung cancer is an annual low-dose computed tomography (LDCT scan) which uses an x-ray machine to scan the body using a very low dose radiation. 

This type of x-ray uses 90% less radiation but is able to detect many abnormalities.

Signs and symptoms 

Lung cancer usually does not show signs or symptoms during the early stages. Symptoms may develop at a later stage, and may include:

  • Persistent cough
  • Hemoptysis (coughing up blood)
  • Breathlessness
  • Unexplained fatigue and weight loss
  • Pain upon breathing or coughing
  • Hoarseness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Wheezing

Benefits of lung cancer screening

Low-dose Computed Tomography (also known as low-dose CT scan) is the only recommended screening test for lung cancer. This test uses low dose radiation.

  • Because CT scans are able to detect even very small nodules in the lungs, LDCT of the chest is especially effective for diagnosing lung cancer at its earliest, most treatable stage.
  • LDCT is fast, which is important for patients who have trouble holding their breath.
  • LDCT scanning is painless and noninvasive. No contrast material is required.
  • No radiation remains in a patient’s body after a CT examination.
  • X-rays used in LDCT of the chest have no immediate side effects and do not affect any metal parts in your body such as pacemakers or artificial joints.
  • If cancer is found it is often at an early stage and patients often undergo less invasive surgery and have less lung tissue removed.

Risks of lung cancer screening

  • Over-diagnosis. May lead to the detection of cell changes that may never develop to become cancerous during a person’s lifetime.
  • False positive. Results from a test that indicates that cancer is present when there is none. This can result in unnecessary follow-up tests and maybe surgery.
  • False negative. Test results that appear to be normal even when lung cancer is present A person who receives a false-negative test result may delay seeking medical care.
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