An estimated over 235,000 people in the U.S. will be diagnosed with lung cancer in 2022. Fewer than 1 in 7 lung cancer patients will be diagnosed in the earliest stage when the disease is most treatable. Know these lung cancer screening facts.
#1: Lung cancer is not always fatal
Lung cancer is more successfully treated if it’s detected early.
In the US, the average 5-year survival of patients with lung cancer is 17.7%. However, this number drastically changes when the stage of the disease at the time of diagnosis is figured into the equation. If lung cancer is caught before it spreads, the likelihood of surviving 5 years or more improves to 60%.
In addition, new treatments have made some lung cancers manageable as a disease, similar to diabetes.
#2: Lung cancer screening is critical for former smokers
Low-dose CT Scans are used for lung cancer screening and are recommended for smokers and those who have quit if they fall into a “high risk” group. Yearly CT Scans for lung cancer screening may be right for you if you meet all of these requirements:
- Between the ages of 50 and 80
- Show NO signs or symptoms of lung cancer
- You are currently smoking or quit within the past 15 years and you have a 15 or greater “pack-year” history of smoking.
To calculate your “pack-year”, multiply the number of years you smoked by the number of packs of cigarettes you smoked a day.
Example: 20 years of smoking x ½ pack a day = 10 pack-years
#3: Low Dose CT scans for lung cancer screening is safe and easy
CT scans are a recommended method for lung cancer screening in high-risk patients. Lung cancer screening is a preventive health check, like a mammogram or a colonoscopy. CT scans do expose you to some radiation, but it’s about the same amount as you would get from a mammogram. This type of scan uses 75% less radiation than a regular CT scan and does not require any needles.
- CT Scans can find something before you know it’s there and before you have symptoms.
- Chest X-rays should never be used for lung cancer screening.
- People at higher risk may benefit from yearly screening and should talk to their doctor about the possible benefits, limits, and harms of screening.
If you are eligible for a lung cancer screening, the American College of Radiology has a tool that can help you find a lung cancer screening program near you.
#4: Think you’re safe if you’re a non-smoker?
In the US, about 10% to 20% of lung cancers happen in people who never smoked or smoked fewer than 100 cigarettes in their lifetime.
People diagnosed with lung cancer who have never smoked are still the 7th leading cause of all cancer deaths. If you have lungs, then you too can get lung cancer. But if you have a close family history of lung cancer, or have been exposed to substances like radon or asbestos, it’s important to talk with your physician.
The reality is that no one “deserves” lung cancer and a person’s smoking history is an important part of their medical history but it is irrelevant to the level of care and concern they receive in the lung cancer community.
#5: If you quit smoking more than 15 years ago, you still carry a risk. But quitting was the right choice.
Although Medicare covers yearly screenings for at-risk patients who are 50 to 80 years old, if you are a former smoker, you should discuss screening with your doctor.
People at high risk include
- current and former smokers
- those who have quit in the past 15 years and meet other certain criteria
- those who have a 20-year pack history
- people exposed to cancer-causing substances in the workplace
- people who have a personal or family history of lung cancer
- had previous radiation therapy to the chest
#6: That vape cigarette you’re smoking is not necessarily safer.
When you smoke e-cigarettes, you’re still exposed to harmful chemicals like nicotine and formaldehyde. While e-cigarettes may be a safer, less toxic alternative to conventional cigarettes, not enough is known yet about the health effects of e-cigarettes.
#7: Even if you have lung cancer already, you’ll probably do better if you stop smoking.
People who have lung cancer and who do not smoke can have better outcomes. Smoking cessation after an initial diagnosis of lung cancer has been associated with a nearly 30% improvement in overall survival.
Quitting at the same time of diagnosis can:
- Increase your likelihood of survival
- Decrease your risk of developing a second cancer
- Improve your body’s ability to heal from and respond to surgery, chemotherapy, or other treatments
- Lower your risk of pneumonia or respiratory failure
- Improve your quality of life
- Allow you to spend more time at home than in the hospital
Sooner is better. Get screened for lung cancer. Find out if you’re eligible for free lung cancer screening.