Screening for lung cancer can save your life. Yet, many Americans are not aware that it’s available, according to a new survey from the American Lung Association.
Just 36% of people are aware of such tests. In addition, a mere 29% know that lung cancer is the leading cancer killer of women and men.
November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month. In a press release, Harold Wimmer, national president and CEO of the American Lung Association, says much progress has been made in the fight against lung cancer:
“While lung cancer remains the leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S., the five-year survival rate has increased 33% in the past 10 years thanks to advancements in treatment, research and lifesaving lung cancer screening.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends only one type of lung cancer screening test — low-dose computed tomography, also known as a low-dose CT scan, or LDCT scan.
This type of scan involves an X-ray machine that uses a low dose of radiation and creates detailed images of the lungs. The test is quick and causes no pain.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, a panel of national experts in prevention and evidence-based medicine, recommends yearly lung cancer screening with LDCT for people with all of the following characteristics:
- Have a smoking history of 20 pack-years or more
- Smoke now or quit within the past 15 years
- Are between 50 and 80 years old
A pack-year is defined as smoking an average of one pack of cigarettes per day for one year. That means, for example, you can have a 20 pack-year history by smoking one pack a day for 20 years, or two packs a day for 10 years.
The CDC notes that the risks of lung cancer screenings include a false-positive result, suggesting lung cancer that is actually not present. There also is a risk of finding cancers that pose no harm to the patient but that a doctor would be likely to treat if discovered.
Finally, the low dose of radiation used in a CT scan does pose a small danger of causing cancer in an otherwise healthy person.
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