Lung Cancer Screening

1 What is a Lung Cancer Screening?

A test to check for signs of lung cancer in healthy people is called lung cancer screening and this is recommended for older adults who are longtime smokers.

More likely it will be cured if it was detected at an early stage. The doctors will use a low-dose computerized tomography (CT) scan of the lungs.

Consult your doctor first about the risk and benefits of this screening.

2 Reasons for Procedure

To detect the lung cancer at an early stage is the reason of lung cancer screening so it can still be cured. This test reduces the risk of dying of lung cancer.

This is for people who are at high risk of lung cancer and people who have smoked heavily for many years – if you are smoking for more than 30 pack years, this pack years are calculated by multiplying the number of packs of cigarettes smoked a day and the number of years that you smoked.

To reach 30 pack-years of smoking, you'd need to smoke a pack a day for 30 years or two packs a day for 15 years.

Consult your doctor to calculate your pack years:

  • Older adults who are current or former smokers – for former smokers and smokers older than 55 years old.
  • People in generally good health – if you have certain conditions such as heart disease you may experience complications during follow-up tests.
  • People who once smoked heavily but quit – if you are a heavily smoker and quit smoking for the last 15 years.

Consult your doctor so both of you can discuss the benefits and risks of the lung cancer screening test.

3 Potential Risks

Some of the possible risks of lung cancer screening test include:

  • Finding cancers that are too advanced to cure that may not respond to treatment cannot extend your life.
  • Undergoing unnecessary follow-up tests – this may carry more risks if you are exposed to additional radiation and invasive tests.
  • Missing cancers – your results may indicate that you do not have lung cancer but really you do because the lung cancer might be missed on your lung CT scan.
  • Finding cancer that may never hurt you – your doctor will likely recommend treatment if you're diagnosed with lung cancer or, the treatment may have been unnecessary cancer would have remained small and confined for the rest of your life. This is because doctors can't know which cancers will never grow to hurt you and which ones must be removed quickly to avoid harm.
  • Finding other health problems – if this happens your doctor will suggest undergoing another further testing and invasive treatment because people who smoke for a long time have an increased risk of other health problems, including lung and heart conditions that may be detected on a lung CT scan.

4 Preparing for your Procedure

To prepare for a lung cancer screening:

  • You should remove any metal in your body such as jewelry, dentures or hearing aids because they can interfere with the imaging.
  • Your doctor will ask you to change into a hospital gown.

5 What to Expect

Here you can find out what to expect from your lung cancer screening.

Your doctor will ask you to lie down on a table during the low-dose CT scan. Sometimes doctors will put the strap on your body so you can keep still and hold you in the proper position or they may give you a pillow to make you comfortable.

The technologist who runs your scan will move to a separate room where he or she can still see you and talk with you.

The table slides through the center of a large machine while you are perfectly lying still to create images of your lungs. Your doctor will ask you to hold your breath to create a clear picture of your lungs when the machine is ready to start the scan.

The machine might have to click or knock noises. This takes up about half an hour including the whole appointment with your doctor. You can change back into your clothes after the CT scan.

A radiologist who specializes in diagnosing and treating disease and conditions with imaging tests will compile and review the images created during the scan.

6 Procedure Results

Understanding the results of your lung cancer screening will be made possible by your doctor.

A radiologist who specializes in diagnosing and treating disease and conditions with imaging tests will compile and review the images created during the scan.

He will send the results to your doctor so you and your doctor can discuss it. Some of the possible results of CT scan include:

  • Lung nodules – many other lung conditions look the same, including scars from lung infections and noncancerous (benign) growths and lung cancer may appear as one or more small spots in the lungs. To see if the lung nodule grows, your doctor may recommend another lung CT scan in a few months because rapidly growing nodules are more likely to be cancerous. Your doctor may recommend additional tests, such as a procedure (biopsy) to remove a piece of a very large nodule for laboratory testing because of the very large nodule.
  • No abnormalities discovered - your doctor may recommend you undergo another scan in a year if there are no abnormalities are discovered on your lung CT scan.
  • Other health problems - other lung and heart problems that are common in people who have smoked for a long time, such as emphysema and hardening of the arteries in the heart may be detected in your low-dose CT scan so additional tests may be recommended.

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