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Published on March 01, 2019

Lung cancer screening: A potentially life-saving test

lung cancerFor many cancers, finding the disease early offers the best chance of a cure. But some cancers typically don’t cause symptoms until they’re already advanced, which makes them difficult to successfully treat.

That’s certainly true for lung cancer—and it’s also why screening for lung cancer is so important.

Screening can help spot lung cancer in its beginning stages, which helps lower the risk of dying from the disease, says Eugene Choi, MD, a hematologist/oncologist with Mercy Health System.

“The smaller the lung cancer is when it’s found—and the less that it has spread to other parts of the body—the better the chance we have of curing someone,” he says. “It’s that simple.”

And that’s why screening is often recommended for people at high risk for lung cancer, such as adults with a history of heavy smoking.

Painless, simple and quick

Lung cancer screening is done with a low-dose CT scan, which uses special X-ray equipment and sophisticated computers to make multiple, cross-sectional pictures of the lungs. Studies show that low-dose CT scans are better at finding lung cancer than a regular chest X-ray.

A low-dose CT scan is fairly quick, and it doesn’t require any injections. “I have not met a single person who regretted getting the scan,” Dr. Choi says.

After the test, a radiologist studies the images for any abnormal areas, called nodules, which may be cancer.

If an abnormality is found on your scan, you may need further testing to determine if it is cancer or not, Dr. Choi says. That usually means getting a lung biopsy.

Talk to your doctor

Lung cancer screening has minimal risks. The test does expose you to radiation, though the X-ray dose is much lower than a regular chest X-ray.

If you’re at high risk of lung cancer due to your smoking history and age, ask your doctor about getting screened. Medicare and many private insurers cover lung cancer screening for those who are eligible.

Finally, remember this: If you ever are diagnosed with lung cancer, Mercy has a team of specialists who can treat you with skill and compassion, including a nurse navigator to help guide you through the entire treatment process.

“At Mercy, we have all the resources to make this happen for you,” Dr. Choi says.

Are you a candidate?

You may be a candidate for lung cancer screening if all three of these things are true for you:

  • You are between 55 and 80 years old.
  • You are either a current smoker or have quit within the past 15 years.
  • You have a history of heavy smoking.
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