How to detect lung cancer: Early detection and beyond

When detected early, lung cancer patients have more treatment options and a far greater chance of survival. The 5-year survival rate for those diagnosed before the cancer has spread rises from 18 out of every 100 people to 55 out of every 100. But, the key is being tested for lung cancer early.

How to detect lung cancer: Symptoms

Many times, symptoms do not manifest themselves in the early stages of lung cancer. Instead, most lung cancers are diagnosed in the late stages of the disease, making treatment more problematic and as a result significantly reducing the overall lung cancer survival rate.

But, there are some classic symptoms of lung cancer that, by themselves, are generally not a cause for worry. If you experience any of these symptoms, please talk to your doctor to rule out lung cancer:

  • Persistent cough (especially if you are coughing up rust-colored sputum)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Hoarseness
  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Chest pain
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Bone pain

If your doctor recommends you be tested for lung cancer, there are several options currently available for this evaluation. Your doctor will recommend the best test for you:

How to detect lung cancer: Risk factors

There are many factors that might put you at risk for lung cancer. Many people believe that smoking alone causes lung cancer. But, increasingly, people who have never smoked or who quit smoking many years ago are being diagnosed with lung cancer.

If you have any of the following lung cancer risk factors, you should see your doctor to determine if you need further screening for cancer.

  • Smoking
  • Exposure to second-hand smoke
  • Exposure to radon gas
  • Exposure to asbestos
  • Exposure to other carcinogens
  • Air pollution
  • Arsenic in drinking water
  • Previous radiation to lungs
  • Personal or family history of lung cancer

Does insurance cover early detection testing?

Studies over the last 15 years using early detection screening such as spiral CT have been shown to reduce lung cancer deaths by 16% to 20%. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force now recommends annual computed tomography (CT) screening for people who meet specific criteria. This non-invasive diagnostic test is covered by Medicare and most insurance companies.

If you answered YES to these 3 questions, you meet the criteria:

Are you between the ages of 55 and 77?
Are you asymptomatic (show no signs or symptoms)?
Do you currently smoke or did you quit smoking within the last 15 years and have/had a tobacco smoking history of at least 30 "pack years" - an average of one pack a day for 30 years?

If you answered YES to these 3 questions, you meet the criteria set by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force that recommends annual computed tomography (CT) screening. This non-invasive diagnostic test is covered by Medicare and most insurance companies. Make an appointment with your doctor and discuss this testing with them.

If you answered NO to any of these questions BUT have any concerns regarding your lung cancer risks, you should make an appointment with your doctor.

Next step: Working with your doctor

Learn more about early detection

Watch these videos to learn more about research in early detection. Visit our Resources section to find more information.

Dr Donington video

What Does Dr. Donington Research?

Dr Donington video

Using Early Detection to Improve Patient Outcomes

Dr Jessica Donington grants video

LCFA Grants: How They Help

More Research into Early Detection Needed

These insurance-covered screenings are a step in the right direction, however more research into early detection of lung cancer is desperately needed.

More than half of new lung cancer patients have never smoked or quit more than 15 years ago, and as such are not included in the CT screening recommendations discussed above.

We need more early detection methods for all possible lung cancer patients.

The good news is, this is where lung cancer research is helping. Your donation to LCFA will go toward funding new research.

19 out of every 100 who qualify get lung cancer screening