We know that people who smoke or have been frequent smokers in the past are much more likely to develop lung cancer. Low-dose computed tomography (CT) scans have proven to be an effective way to detect lung cancer, even in its early stages. However, most smokers have not taken advantage of this effective screening technique since it was not covered by insurance. Fortunately, that is changing and many insurance providers now cover the exam for those who meet the criteria.
The criteria for Medicare beneficiaries includes being aged 55 to 77, having a smoking history that is equivalent to a pack a day for 30 years, and currently smoking or have quit in the past 15 years. A recommendation from a doctor or advanced practitioner is also required. This screening is important because lung cancer is particularly deadly, and the disease is known to kill more people than colon, breast and prostate cancer combined. By uncovering the disease early, doctors believe treatment can be much more successful.
The lung cancer screening exam is effective because CT Scans are far more detailed than chest X-rays at revealing abnormalities. However, the screenings can turn up false positives (abnormalities that turn out not to be cancer). That’s why it’s important for smokers and former smokers to have a detailed consultation with their primary care provider to understand the exam and its risks, benefits and limitations and then make an informed decision if it is right for you. During the consultation, your doctor will also want to help you develop a cessation plan (if you smoke) and discuss the need for any further CT screenings.
It’s important that the exam take place in a facility that has experience in lung cancer screening. Appropriate care and follow-up are very important if an abnormality is detected. Not every facility that does CT scanning is a good choice for your exam.
Although early-detection of lung cancer has improved, screening should not be used as a substitute for quitting smoking. The best way to reduce your risk of lung cancer is to stop smoking. Most lung cancer cases occur in people who smoke or have smoked in the past. If you currently smoke and would like to quit, please visit the American Cancer Society’s Guide to Quitting Smoking.
Remember that proper lung cancer screenings (and quitting smoking) could save your life!