Who Qualifies for Lung Cancer Screening?
The following recommendations are in place for lung cancer screening from the the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP).
Age 50-80: Annual lung cancer screening with a low-dose CT scan (LDCT) if you are:
- In fairly good health, AND
- Currently smoke or have quit in the past 15 years, AND
- Have at least a 20 pack-year smoking history.
What is a pack-year?
This is the number of packs of cigarettes per day multiplied by the number of years smoked. For example, someone who smoked 2 packs a day for 10 years [2 x 10 = 20] has 20 pack-years of smoking, as does a person who smoked 1 pack a day for 20 years [1 x 20 = 20].
What Kind of Test is Lung Cancer Screening?
The test for lung cancer screening is a low-dose CT scan. CT scans are safe, painless, and are able to detect more than x-rays. These low-dose CT scans take just a few minutes and are performed outpatient, meaning they do not require hospital or clinic admission. This is more advanced than a chest x-ray that is sometimes used to identify spots on the lungs once they’re larger. The CT technology can detect areas of concern that may not be fully developed yet into something that can be seen on an x-ray.
Patients Have a Better Prognosis When Lung Cancer is Found Earlier
Finding cancer earlier through regular screening tests has improved outcomes for patients with a lung cancer diagnosis. Screening makes it possible to find cancer early, when it's easier to treat. This results in a longer survival rate for these patients.
Should Non-Smokers Get Screened for Lung Cancer?
Even if you are exposed to second hand smoke, the The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force does not recommend lung cancer screening for people who have never smoked. That’s because the possible harms of repeated radiation exposure from the low-dose CT scans outweigh the possible benefit of detecting lung cancer since it's less likely to occur among nonsmokers.
However, nonsmokers should be aware of other risk factors that can lead to lung cancer as well as lung cancer symptoms because they can be diagnosed with lung cancer.
Follow the Right Path: Plan Your Lung Cancer Screening
Talk to your primary care physician at your annual exam about the right lung cancer screening schedule for you.