Lung Cancer Screening: A Lifesaving Test

Current and former smokers should consider lung cancer screening.

You might worry about breast or prostate cancer, but lung cancer is the No. 1 cancer killer of Americans. It accounts for about one-quarter of all cancer deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If the disease is detected early, however, it’s curable. Annual low-dose CT scans of the lungs can be lifesaving for longtime smokers. In fact, studies show that one in 300 CT scans saves a life.

Monmouth Medical Center (MMC) is an American College of Radiology-designated Lung Cancer Screening Center, an accreditation that distinguishes it as a provider of safe, high-quality screening with appropriate follow-up care. Screening is so effective that the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends it for asymptomatic, high-risk individuals who meet the following criteria:

  • Ages 55 to 77
  • Current smoker or has quit within the last 15 years
  • Tobacco smoking history of at least 30 “pack years” (an average of one pack per day for 30 years)
  • Have an order for lung cancer screening from a physician or qualified healthcare provider

The USPSTF may soon expand the eligibility criteria given the effectiveness of screening.

Quick and Comfortable

Leizle Talangbayan, MD
Leizle Talangbayan, MD

Patients may worry about the amount of time the screening test takes—or that they will feel claustrophobic—but “the CT scan itself is very quick, taking less than 30 seconds, which is more comfortable for patients who may have difficulty holding their breath,” says Leizle Talangbayan, MD, an attending radiologist at MMC. “Also, the scanning unit is open and ring-like, making it more comfortable for patients who may be apprehensive in small spaces.”

Results are generally available in one or two days, says Dr. Talangbayan. The test produces detailed images at the lowest possible radiation dose. If a nodule is detected and it looks suspicious, your doctor may have you return for an additional follow-up CT scan or additional testing with a PET scan or biopsy. Depending on their size and characteristics, nodules need to be monitored at certain intervals. Even if there are no suspicious abnormalities, screening patients will still be asked to return for annual follow-ups, like mammograms, which also have an annual screening schedule, says Dr. Talangbayan.

Fortunately, lung cancer screening is covered by Medicare and most insurance plans, so there’s no reason to skip it.

“If you find lung cancer early, you can save a life,” says Dr. Talangbayan.

RWJBarnabas Health and Monmouth Medical Center, in partnership with Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey—the state’s only NCI-Designated Comprehensive Cancer Center—provide close-to-home access to the most advanced treatment options. Find out more about our cancer services, request an appointment, or call 844.CANCERNJ (844-226-2376).