Lung cancer does not usually cause symptoms until the cancer is already advanced and not able to be cured. That is why the idea of screening for lung cancer sounds attractive. It has the potential of finding lung cancer earlier when it is easier to treat.
However, screening carries risks that may outweigh the benefits for most people. The people who are most likely to benefit from screening are those at higher risk for lung cancer, such as people with a long history of smoking.
People with high-risk of having lung cancer should consider screening:
Doctors should discuss screening with people who are at high risk of developing lung cancer to help them make a decision about screening. If people agree, they should be screened on regular basis (ideally once a year), as long as they are still healthy.
To be in the high-risk category, patients must be aged 55 to 74 years and have a smoking history equivalent to a pack a day for 30 years, and currently smoke or have quit within the past 15 years. To be a good candidate for screening, patients need to be in fairly good health. For example, they need to be able to have surgery and other treatments if lung cancer is found.
Screening should only be done at facilities that have the right type of CT scan and have experience in low-dose CT scans for lung cancer screening. The facility should also have a team of specialists who can provide the appropriate care and follow-up of patients with abnormal results on the scans.
How doe lung cancer screening work?
You will first have a meeting with your doctor to determine your risk of having lung small cancer. If the risk is high enough, your doctor will offer you to have a low-dose CT scan of the lungs. The CT scan uses x-rays to produce detailed cross-sectional images of the lungs. It is better than a regular x-ray at finding lung tumours and showing them clearly.
One drawback of a CT scan is that it finds a lot of abnormalities that turn out not to be cancer but that still need to be checked out. This may lead to additional scans or even more tests such as needle biopsies or surgery to remove a part of the lung in some people. There is also a risk with increased exposure to radiation, even though a low dose is used for lung screening.
Is lung cancer screening right for you?
Medical experts at University College London have made this animated video to help you decide if CT screening for lung cancer is right for you. You can also find it on youtube and Roy Castle lung cancer foundation website.
Quitting is still best
Screening is not a substitute for quitting smoking. The most effective way to lower lung cancer risk is to quit smoking.