About Lung Cancer
Lung cancer is the second most common cancer in men and in women in the U.S. It is also the leading cause of cancer death, accounting for more deaths than colon, breast and prostate cancers combined.
While these statistics may seem daunting, the good news is that the number of new lung cancer cases, as well as the number of lung cancer deaths, continues to drop as more people quit smoking. More advances are also being made in lung cancer screening, which is essential for early detection and treatment.
Should I get screened? If so, when?
For those at high risk for developing lung cancer, screening has been shown to save lives by finding lung cancer in its early stages, when it’s easier to treat.
Health care providers that offer lung cancer screening have requirements to qualify. In order to be eligible for lung cancer screening, you must meet all of the following requirements:
- Be aged 50-80 (Medicare covers age 50-77)
- Be a person who smokes or a person who has quit smoking in the last 15 years
- Have a smoking history of 20 pack-years or more (for example: 1 pack per day for 20 years, three-quarters of a pack a day for 30 years or half a pack a day for 40 years)
If you meet these requirements, it is recommended that you talk to your health care provider about lung cancer screening.
Do I need a referral?
Before getting screened, you’ll need to have a discussion with your doctor about whether or not you’re eligible for lung cancer screening. If you are eligible, your doctor will also go over the risks and benefits of lung cancer screening. If you are eligible and decide with your doctor that lung cancer screening is right for you, your doctor will then need to refer you to Siteman, or another location that offers screening.
What is the screening test?
Today, lung cancer screening is usually performed using a low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) scan, which provides 3-D images of the lungs and can detect lung cancers before they can be seen on chest x-rays. LDCT can detect abnormalities with a far lower dose of radiation than a typical CT scan.
Symptoms of lung cancer
Most lung cancers don’t cause symptoms until they have spread, which is why getting screened is so important. Still, some people with early-stage lung cancer do experience symptoms. These may include:
- A cough that doesn’t go away and gets worse over time
- Coughing up blood
- Chest pain
- Repeated respiratory infections
- Shortness of breath or wheezing
- Constantly feeling tired
- Unexplained weight loss
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it does not mean that you have lung cancer. In fact, most of these symptoms are more likely to be caused by something other than lung cancer. Still, it’s important to speak with your provider about any symptoms that last longer than two weeks. It could very well be nothing, but it’s best to know for sure what’s going on in your body so that you can get whatever care you may need.
Need help quitting smoking?
If you smoke, quitting is the single best thing you can do for your health. While lung cancer screening can lower the risk of dying from lung cancer, it isn’t a substitute for quitting smoking, which is the most effective way to reduce your risk. Avoiding tobacco not only lowers your risk of lung cancer, but your risk of many other cancers and diseases as well. For help quitting, talk to a health care provider, visit www.smokefree.gov or call 1-800-QUIT-NOW.