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Lung Cancer Screening

Early detection improves outcomes

According to studies, lung cancer screening and early detection can increase survival by as much as 20 percent. Screening is the process of looking for cancer in people who don’t have symptoms. Your doctor may recommend screening if you have an increased risk for lung cancer. Sometimes this can detect cancer early, when it is likely to be easier to treat.

In general screening is not done for lung cancer. This is because studies have not found that tests like x-rays or looking for cancer cells in coughed-up mucus (sputum cytology) actually save lives. But a low-dose CT (LDCT) scan or spiral CT scan, may be able to help. An LDCT scan uses x-rays to create detailed pictures of your lungs. To have the test, you lie still on a table as it passes through the center of the CT scanner. A CT scan is painless and noninvasive, and does not require any special preparation. You may be asked to hold your breath one or more times during the scan. A CT scan can show some abnormal areas that a chest x-ray might miss, but these areas often turn out not to be cancer. You may still need more invasive tests to be sure.

It’s not clear if spiral CT scans can find cancer in people who are not heavy smokers or who have not smoked at all, or if the test can find cancer in people younger than age 55. Studies of the spiral CT scan have only been on heavy smokers who were 55 to 74 years old.

Spiral CT scans also have some downsides. They find many abnormalities that turn out not to be cancer but that still need more testing to be sure. This can cause people to feel anxious, and subject you to unneeded tests such as more CT scans. And it might mean more invasive tests such as biopsies or surgery, even when a person doesn't have lung cancer. Spiral CT scans also use a small amount of radiation during each test.

Groups such as the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, the American Society of Clinical Oncology, the American Cancer Society, and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network have issued early detection guidelines. They recommend talking with your doctor about lung cancer screening if you are:

  • Age 55 to 74, or slightly older. Check with your insurance plan, because some plans may extend the age limit to 77 or even 80.
  • Are current or former smokers. A former smoker has quit within the last 15 years.
  • Have smoked a pack of cigarettes a day for 30 or more years, or two packs a day for 15 or more years.
  • Are in good enough health to be helped by screening. This means that if an early lung cancer is found on screening, they would be able to survive lung surgery to remove it.

Tests used for lung cancer screening:

  • Chest X-Ray: A lung cancer x-ray can be done at imaging centers and even in some physicians’ offices. If something unusual is seen, your doctor may order more tests.
  • Computed Tomography (CT) Scans: CT scans are detailed images of the body that are created by using multiple x-rays. CT scans are more likely to show tumors than a standard chest and lung cancer x-ray, and can also find enlarged lymph nodes that may contain cancer.
  • PET Scan: This scan uses CT technology as well as positron emission tomography to identify cancer. A PET scan for lung cancer uses an injection into the body to help identify tumors that may not be visible in a CT scan.
  • Sputum Cytology: This lung cancer test looks for cancer cells in mucus coughed-up from the lungs.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and the American Cancer Society recommend that screening should be done at a cancer hospital that has experience with lung cancer screening, such as any of our cancer centers across New Jersey.

To contact one of New Jersey’s best lung and thoracic cancer specialists call
844-CANCERNJ or 844-226-2376.

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