Lung Cancer Screening May Extend Life Expectancy

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Lung cancer is one of the most common types of cancer in the United States and the leading cause of cancer death among men and women.

This is due, in part, to the fact that lung cancer often goes undetected until it is at an advanced stage. This makes the disease more difficult to treat – with a less promising outlook.

For people who are at high risk for developing the disease, screening can be one way to catch lung cancer early – and improve their chance of a cure.

Study Shows Screening Works

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) recommends yearly CT lung cancer scans for people at higher risk of developing lung cancer -- adults ages 55 to 77 with a 30-pack year cigarette smoking history and who currently smoke or have quit within the past 15 years.

A pack-year is used to measure tobacco exposure. It is calculated by multiplying the number of packs of cigarettes smoked per day by the number of years the person has smoked. A cigarette pack has 20 cigarettes.

A person who has smoked 20 cigarettes a day for 30 years has a 30 pack-year smoking history. You can learn your pack-year number using this online calculator.

The NCI recommendations are based on results of the National Lung Cancer Screening Trial, which were published in 2011. The clinical trial compared two large groups of current and former smokers with no lung cancer symptoms. Each group underwent screenings for lung cancer: one received low-dose helical computed tomography (LDCT) while the other received a standard chest X-ray.

The results showed that those who received the LDCT scans had a 20 percent reduction in deaths from lung cancer during seven years of follow-up compared to those who received the standard chest X-ray.

How Does LDCT work?

An LDCT scan is currently the only recommended screening for lung cancer, says Catalina Teba, MD, of the Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center.

LDCT is a type of computed tomography (CT) that uses X-ray technology to take pictures of the inside of the body, and can even create a three-dimensional picture of the scanned area. A LDCT scan produces multiple, cross-sectional images that can be manipulated and viewed from different angles using a lower dose of radiation than traditional X-rays or CT scans, Dr. Teba says.

“LDCT screening is easy, fast and painless,” Dr. Teba says. “The entire visit takes 30 minutes or less and no special preparation is necessary.”

For the right patient, LDCT screening can be life-saving, she says.

“We’ve screened approximately 4,500 patients since 2011 and have found more than 132 cases of cancer,” Dr. Teba says.

Who is Eligible for LDCT?

In general, you are eligible for LDCT if:

  • You between the ages of 55 and 77
  • You smoke cigarettes now or are you a former cigarette smoker who quit less than 15 years ago
  • You smoked, on average, one pack per day for 30 years or two packs a day for 15 years
  • You are not experiencing lung cancer symptoms, which may include hoarseness, a cough, shortness of breath, unintentional weight loss and coughing up phlegm or blood

LDCT screening is recommended every year – or more frequently if you meet the criteria or for those who qualify - until you no longer meet the eligibility criteria.

Discuss with your doctor whether the potential benefits of LDCT outweigh the risks in your particular case.

Like many imaging tests, CT scans require the use of radiation. Exposure to any radiation can pose a risk to your health, even though LDCT uses the lowest amount of radiation possible to obtain useful images.

RELATED LINKS

If you think you qualify for a LDCT scan, discuss the screening with your physician. You will need a written order from your doctor before you can schedule the scan. Once you have a physician’s order, call (216) 844-1700 to make an appointment for a low dose CT scan.

Learn about lung cancer screening services at University Hospitals.

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