The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force came out with its own CT and lung cancer screening guidelines recently. They recommend annual low-dose CT scans for people between the ages of 55-80 who have a smoking history of at least 30 “pack-years” and who either currently smoke or have quit only within the past 15 years.
Whenever guidelines like these get issued by respected medical authorities, they’re based on research evidence. But this also means that they’re still subject to debate and future refinement. They aren’t set in stone, and they certainly aren’t 100% effective. Part of the ongoing debate has to do with the analysis of risks versus benefits. Will the benefits for people who meet the criteria for these guidelines outweigh the risks of routine scanning (which include doses of radiation)? A number of medical experts think so, but others are still in doubt.
One interesting article on these recent guidelines starts with some reflections from a man who quit smoking after roughly 20 years of pack-a-day cigarette use. He shares an important insight: That when you get a cigarette craving, you need to realize that it won’t last forever. It might feel intense for a short while, but if you find a way to get through it, it will pass.
Why mention this insight now, in a discussion of CT scans for lung cancer? Because your best bet for avoiding lung cancer as a smoker is to quit. CT scans may help you live longer; they could catch a cancer at an earlier stage, increasing the chances that it will be treatable and that you’ll survive. But scans have their limitations; they aren’t a replacement for quitting.
Even people who already have cancer benefit from quitting. No matter what stage of life you’re at, or what condition of health you’re in, quitting may bring you tremendous benefits, increasing your life span and/or your quality of life. On top of quitting, adopting other healthy lifestyle choices such as eating well and getting regular physical activity also help for cancer prevention.
It’s wonderful that we have medical technology like CT scans to help detect cancer. When you contact us, we’ll tell you firsthand what the benefits of these scans are; but we’ll also have an honest discussion with you about the risks and the limitations. As much as they can sometimes help, they still aren’t a substitute for healthier lifestyle choices. So look into ways of quitting smoking, if you haven’t already; ask your doctor or another healthcare professional about different strategies for ending tobacco use.