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2020 Cancer Guide

Former smokers may benefit from a lung CT scan

Dr. Michael Coello, for Beaumont Health
A low-dose CT screening is the best way to catch lunch cancer early.

More Americans die each year from lung cancer than from any other type of cancer. Lung cancer accounts for almost 25% of all cancer deaths — more than colon, prostate and breast cancers combined. That’s because it is often detected late, after it has a chance to spread to other parts of the body.

But when it is caught early, lung cancer is treatable — and survivable.

The best way to catch lung cancer early is with a low-dose CT screening that can detect lung cancer in its earliest stages. The earlier the cancer is detected, the greater the chance of a cure — even as high as 90%.

Based on screening guidelines established by the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, patients who are considered high risk for lung cancer might benefit from having a low-dose CT screening to detect lung cancer early.

Here are some frequently asked questions about lung cancer screenings — including what it is and who should have one.

What is a lung CT screening?

Lung CT screenings use low-dose spiral commuted tomography (a CT or CAT scan) to look for signs of lung cancer — similar in many ways to how mammograms can screen for breast cancer. The screening uses a small amount of radiation and computer technology to create cross-sectional images — often called slices — horizontally and vertically of the body.

The CT scan shows detailed images of the bones, muscles, fat, blood vessels and organs. It is able to detect and track suspicious-looking nodules — small masses of tissues — in their earliest stages of cancer, or even before they become cancerous. The low-dose CT scan uses much lower amounts of radiation than a standard CT scan, minimizing the risk of exposure to the patient.

The technology is very detailed and helps doctors diagnose lung cancer and other conditions that are more difficult to diagnose with other imaging methods such as X-rays and ultrasounds. X-rays only can find masses that are about the size of a dime, but CT scans can detect abnormalities that are about the size of a grain of rice.

Who is eligible for a CT lung cancer screening?

Patients who meet the guidelines developed by the National Lung Screening Trial and National Comprehensive Cancer Network are eligible for a CT lung cancer screening with a written prescription from their physician. The screening program involves having an annual chest CT scan.

Sometimes the abnormalities found on the screenings are inflammation or other issues that are not cancer. If the scan shows something of concern, the patient should follow up with their doctor for further recommendations. Even if the scan shows nothing of concern, patients should continue to have a CT screening each year to look for any changes.

To be eligible for an annual CT lung cancer screening, patients should be between the ages of 55 and 77; have a cigarette smoking history of at least 30 pack years (one pack year equates to smoking one pack per day for 30 years, or two packs per day for 15 years); or be a current cigarette smoker or someone who has quit smoking within the last 15 years.

If you believe you are eligible for the screening, talk with your doctor.

Will my insurance cover the screening?

Many insurances will cover the cost of the screening for patients who meet the eligibility criteria. It’s a good idea to check with your doctor or insurance company to confirm. For patients who do not meet all of the criteria but whose doctors think a screening would benefit them, ask about a low-cost self-pay option.

Why should I quit smoking?

There’s one important reason to quit smoking: It is the best way to lower your risk of getting lung cancer. Smoking is the cause of 80% of all lung cancer deaths in women and 90% of all lung cancer deaths in men, according to the American Lung Association. Approximately 10-15% of all smokers will develop lung cancer.

Quitting smoking isn’t easy, and it can take several attempts before a patient succeeds. But there are many resources available to help you quit — including nicotine replacement products, classes and support groups.

If your doctor has prescribed a lung cancer screening, visit beaumont.org/lung or call 248-965-1858 to schedule a screening at one of Beaumont’s 13 locations throughout metro Detroit.

Members of the editorial and news staff of the USA TODAY Network were not involved in the creation of this content.
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