Healthy Living

Don't let lung cancer sneak up on you

Neil Ninan, MD

The best way to reduce your risk of dying from lung cancer is not smoking. However, smokers who are at high risk for lung cancer may be able to lower their odds of death from the disease by getting a lung cancer CT scan. This test can detect lung cancer early, when successful treatment may be more likely.

The American Lung Association and the United States Preventive Services Task Force recommend such low-dose CT scans for high-risk people. The recommendation is based on the results of a study of CT scan screening for lung cancer that was funded by the National Cancer Institute.

The study found low-dose CT scans reduced lung cancer deaths among smokers by 15 to 20 percent. The scans also reduced death from any cause during the study period by nearly 7 percent.

Are you a candidate?
At present, only people who are at the highest risk for lung cancer are candidates for screening. This includes people who meet all of the following criteria:

  • Are a current smoker or have quit within the last 15 years
  • Are 55 to 80 years old
  • Have a smoking history of 30 pack-years or more (for example, one pack a day for 30 years, two packs a day for 15 years, or the equivalent)

Understanding Chest CTs
Chest CT (computed tomography) scans are a type of X-ray that shows the lungs in great detail. They allow doctors to assess the health of the lungs with greater accuracy than is possible with a standard chest X-ray.

Painless and noninvasive, CT scans pose few risks to adults. The amount of radiation used in the average scan is more than a standard X-ray, but the risks of developing cancer from one CT scan are still small. Some people have an allergic reaction to the contrast dye that is used during the scan, but this is rare.

Cost Concerns
Your insurance will cover the initial screening without a copayment if you meet the high-risk criteria and are 55 to 80 years old and have private insurance, or are 55 to 77 years old and have Medicare. Check with your insurance plan for coverage of additional, associated costs, even if the screening itself is free.

If you are at high-risk for lung cancer, talk with your doctor about whether you should receive this potentially lifesaving screening.

Fast Fact
Key health effects of smoking:

  • Smoking kills more than 480,000 Americans a year.
  • Smoking causes almost 90 percent of all lung cancer cases and as many as 80 percent of all chronic obstructive lung disease deaths.
  • Smoking causes one-third of deaths from cardiovascular disease.

Neil A. Ninan MDNeil Ninan, MD specializes in Pulmonary Disease and Interventional Pulmonology. Interventional pulmonology is a relatively new specialty in pulmonary medicine. Interventional pulmonology uses endoscopy and other tools to diagnose and treat conditions in the lungs and chest.