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Lung Cancer Screening Q&A


Read Time: 3 minutes

lungs in body

What are the benefits of screening for lung cancer?

Lung cancer screening helps us find cancer early, before the cancer is able to cause symptoms. The earlier cancer is found, the easier it is to treat. Treating lung cancer at an earlier stage gives patients more treatment options. They also have a better chance of living longer.

Who is at high risk for lung cancer?

People are at higher risk if any of these are true:

  • They currently smoke, or have smoked tobacco in the last 15 years.
  • They have a family history of lung cancer.
  • They have been exposed to asbestos or radon at home or in the workplace.
  • They have had frequent or long exposure to air pollution or fine particulate matter in the air.
  • They have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
  • They have had previous radiation therapy to the chest.

Who should get lung cancer screening?

You may be a good candidate for early lung cancer screening if you meet all of these criteria:

  • You smoke now or have quit within the past 15 years.
  • You have a history of heavy smoking. (For example, an average of one pack of cigarettes a day for 30 years.)
  • You are 50 years old or older.

Right now, there is not enough evidence that screening helps in people who do not meet these criteria.

How often should I get lung cancer screening?

Doctors recommend you receive this screening about once a year. This screening can continue until you are 80 years old or your doctor suggests otherwise.

If people are at high risk for lung cancer but they don't qualify for lung cancer screening, what can they do?

If you meet one or more of the other high-risk categories and are concerned about lung cancer, talk with your doctor. Your doctor can help come up with a good plan for you.

If I have been exposed to high levels of radon, what action should I take for me and my family?

If you have high levels of radon in your home, there are systems you can install that help get rid of radon. Visit the Utah Department of Environmental Quality for more information.

What is a low-dose CT scan and why is it used in lung cancer screening?

A computerized tomography scan (CT scan) is a machine that uses low doses of radiation to take pictures inside your body of organs, blood vessels, and bones.

A low-dose CT scan is similar to a regular CT scan but uses much less radiation. It is very sensitive in finding small growths—also known as lesions—in the lung that a regular chest x-ray will not detect. If lesions are found, further testing may be suggested.

Is the procedure for a low-dose CT scan the same as a regular CT scan?

Both CT scans and low-dose CT scans are done the same. The only difference is low-dose CT scans use less radiation.

When you get a CT scan done, you lay on a table on your back. This table rolls into a machine shaped like a donut. You need to lay still during the procedure. This procedure does not cause any pain. You will hear some loud sounds from the machine while it is working to take pictures. Your doctor can tell you more about what to expect at your appointment.

What questions should I ask my doctor about screening?

These questions can help you decide if getting an early lung cancer screening is right for you.

  • What are the risks of being screened early?
  • If you find anything, what are the next steps?
  • Are there options other than a lung cancer screening we can consider?
  • What is the screening like?
  • Can I change my mind at any point if I don’t feel comfortable with being screened?

Cancer touches all of us.