Should you get screened for lung cancer?
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in both men and women in the U.S. and worldwide, mostly attributed to smoking. What makes it especially dangerous is that lung cancer symptoms typically don’t appear until the disease has reached advanced stages. Fortunately, new screenings can catch the condition in its earliest and most treatable stages – saving many lives.
Lung cancer screening is a process that’s used to detect the presence of lung cancer in otherwise healthy people with a high risk of lung cancer. The goal is to detect lung cancer at a very early stage when it’s more likely to be cured. By the time lung cancer signs and symptoms develop, the cancer is usually too advanced for curative treatment. Screening is recommended for adults between the ages of 50 – 77 who have a ≥ 20-pack-year history of smoking and are a current smoker or have quit within the past 15 years.
“Smoking is estimated to account for about 85 to 90% of all lung cancer cases, with a relative risk of lung cancer being higher in smokers than in non-smokers,” explains Dr. Monaliben Patel, a medical oncologist at Advocate Christ Medical Center, in Oak Lawn, Ill.
The only recommended screening test for lung cancer is low-dose computed tomography (also called a low-dose CT scan, or LDCT), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In just a few minutes, the scan can detect nodules or spots on your lungs that might be early indicators of lung cancer. Finding lung cancer early through a CT scan can reduce your risk of death by 20%.
The two main types of lung cancer are non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and small cell lung cancer (SCLC). Non-small cell cancer is more common, grows more slowly and is less likely to spread. Small cell cancer progresses quickly and is likely to spread beyond the lungs.
There are four stages of lung cancer:
Stage 1: Cancer is small and has not spread.
Stage 2: Cancer may have grown into your chest or heart lining, into your bronchus or spread to your lymph nodes near your original tumor.
Stage 3: Cancer has spread to tissue near your original tumor or to lymph nodes far away.
Stage 4: Cancer has spread to other organs throughout your body most often to your other lung, adrenal glands, bones, brain or to your liver.
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