Lung Cancer Screening

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends yearly lung cancer screening with a low dose CT scan (LDCT) of the chest for people who

  • Have a history of heavy smoking, and
  • Smoke now or have quit within the past 15 years, and
  • Are between 55 and 80 years old.

Heavy smoking means a smoking history of 30 pack years or more. A pack year is smoking an average of one pack of cigarettes per day for one year. For example, a person could have a 30 pack-year history by smoking one pack a day for 30 years or two packs a day for 15 years.

Risks of Screening

Lung cancer screening has at least three risks:

  • A lung cancer screening test can suggest that a person has lung cancer when no cancer is present. This is called a false-positive result. False-positive results can lead to follow-up tests and surgeries that are not needed and may have more risks.
  • A lung cancer screening test can find cases of cancer that may never have caused a problem for the patient. This is called overdiagnosis. 
    • Overdiagnosis can lead to treatment that is not needed.
  • Radiation from repeated LDCT tests can cause cancer in otherwise healthy people.

That is why lung cancer screening is recommended only for adults who are at high risk for developing the disease because of their smoking history and age, and who do not have a health problem that substantially limits their life expectancy or their ability or willingness to have lung surgery, if needed.

If you are thinking about getting screened, talk to one of our physicians.

The best way to reduce your risk of lung cancer is to not smoke and to avoid secondhand smoke. Lung cancer screening is not a substitute for quitting smoking.

When Should Screening Stop?

The Task Force recommends that yearly lung cancer screening stop when the person being screened:

  • Turns 81 years old, or
  • Has not smoked in 15 or more years, or
  • Develops a health problem that makes him or her unwilling or unable to have surgery if lung cancer is found.

(adopted from the CDC:

Our physicians are also equipped in performing several bronchoscopic and pleural procedures that may assist in the diagnosis and management of lung cancer.

These procedures include:

  • Bronchoscopy with bronchoalveolar lavage
  • Bronchoscopy with biopsy
  • Endobronchial ultrasound to assess the lymph nodes in the chest
  • PleurX catheter placement to assist with frequent drainage of malignant pleural effusion or buildup of fluid around the lungs. Drainage can be performed at home to avoid repetitive trips to the hospital
  • Referral for CT-guided biopsy with our colleagues in Interventional Radiology

What is a bronchoscopy?

Bronchoscopy is a procedure that lets doctors look at your lungs and air passages. During bronchoscopy, a thin flexible tube (bronchoscope) is passed through your nose or mouth, down your throat and into your lungs. This is typically performed under conscious sedation. However, it may be performed under general anesthesia in certain situations.

During a bronchoscopy your doctor will be able to obtain samples of mucus or tissue, to remove foreign bodies or other blockages from the airways or lungs, or to provide treatment for lung problems.

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