Lung Cancer Screening

Overview

What is screening?

Screening means that a test is done to look for a disease, in someone at risk of developing the disease, before the disease has advanced enough to cause symptoms. The goal of screening is to reduce the number of people who die from the disease by detecting the disease early in its course, when it is easier to treat, with minimal harm to those who are screened.

What is a lung cancer screening?

Lung cancer screening refers to testing a healthy individual at high risk for developing lung cancer who has no symptoms of lung cancer in hopes of finding lung cancer at a stage that it can be cured. Low-dose chest CT-based screening has been found to reduce the number of people who die from lung cancer with acceptable risks when performed in a high quality setting.

How do I know if I am eligible for a lung cancer screening?

To be a candidate for lung screening, an individual must:

  • Be 50 to 80 years old.
  • Be a smoker or a person who quit smoking within the last 15 years.
  • Have a smoking history of at least 20 pack-years. (A pack year is a way of determining how many cigarettes a person has smoked during his or her lifetime. One pack year is equal to smoking 20 cigarettes, or one pack, every day for one year.)
  • Have no new symptoms that could be related to lung cancer.
  • Be healthy enough to tolerate curative intent treatment for early stage lung cancer.
  • Have not had a chest CT in the last 12 months.

Screening for lung cancer is typically stopped once an individual has:

  • Not smoked for 15 years or more.
  • Lost the wiliness to go through testing or surgery.
  • Developed another health condition.

Talk to your healthcare provider about your eligibility for lung cancer screening.

Risks / Benefits

What are the benefits of lung cancer screening?

You can be screened for lung cancer using a low-dose computed tomography (CT) scan. CT scans combine X-ray views from multiple angles, creating a two-dimensional, cross-sectional image of your lungs. Having a lung cancer screening chest CT reduces the chance of dying from lung cancer in those at very high risk of developing lung cancer.

What are the risks of lung cancer screening?

Screening for lung cancer with a chest CT can find small spots in the lungs of at least 25% of all people who get the scan. These spots are called lung nodules. Only three or four out of 100 lung nodules found are cancer. The rest are small scars that will never affect your health.

There is no way to tell if many of these small lung nodules are scars or lung cancer without further tests. CT scans are usually done over time to see if the lung nodule grows. You might need a biopsy if the lung nodule is large enough.

Therefore, many people who are screened will have further tests without actually having lung cancer. The lung cancer screening program will talk with you about whether or not you need more tests. Lung cancer screening CTs use a very small dose of radiation to take pictures of your lungs. The dose of radiation is quite low (five times less than a standard chest CT scan). The effects of radiation from lung cancer screening are not known. The benefits are thought to outweigh any consequences.

Additional Details

Are there any risk factors I should be aware of prior to lung cancer screening?

If you smoke, you can cut your risk of dying from lung cancer by quitting. We advise all smokers to quit. You can find help from your doctor or through counsellors within the screening program.

Resources

Questions?

If you have any questions about the Lung Cancer Screening Program at Cleveland Clinic, please call 1.216.445.3800.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 05/25/2018.

References

  • Wood DE, Kazerooni EA, Baum SL, et al. J Natl Compr Canc Netw. 2018;16(4):412-441. Accessed 5/29/2018.Lung Cancer Screening, Version 3.2018, NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology. (http://www.jnccn.org/content/16/4/412.full)
  • National Cancer Institute.. Accessed 5/29/2018. Lung Cancer Screening (PDQ®)-Patient Version (https://www.cancer.gov/types/lung/patient/lung-screening-pdq)

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