Lung cancer is a deadly illness, and people who are at an elevated risk may be looking for ways to detect it early on. Current and former smokers, people whose jobs have regularly exposed them to certain pollutants, and people with a family history of the disease may want to know more about the availability of CT scans for the lungs.
When it comes to CT scans and lung cancer, the American Cancer Society and a few other medical groups have recommended annual screenings for a certain group of people who meet the following criteria:
- They’re between the ages 55-74.
- They’ve been smoking at least a pack a day for at least 30 years.
- They still haven’t quit smoking, or they’ve quit less than 15 years ago.
- If they have some extra risk factor for lung cancer, such as a family history of the disease or exposure to pollutants, they meet the criteria for the scan if they’re at least 50 years old and have been smoking at least a pack a day for 20 or more years.
You may be thinking to yourself, “Why don’t all current or former smokers get annual screenings, along with other individuals who have an elevated risk of lung cancer?”
The issue in part comes down to weighing the risks versus the benefits. CT scans deliver radiation to the body, and there’s always the possibility of getting a ‘false positive’ – something that looks like a cancerous tumor but isn’t; this could lead to invasive procedures such as biopsies, along with lots of worries and immediate follow-up scans with more radiation.
For many people, including younger smokers, the risks of an annual CT scan would probably outweigh the benefits. On the other hand, for the people who fit the criteria listed above, the benefits would likely outweigh the risks. This conclusion is based largely on a study, the National Lung Screening Trial, that showed some benefits of CT scans for the people meeting these criteria.
More research needs to be done of course, and it’s important to emphasize that CT scans aren’t meant to be a substitute for other preventative measures, such as quitting smoking ASAP. Lung cancer can develop and spread quite quickly, making annual scans imperfect at catching them. Still, they could save the life of someone who’s at an especially high risk.
Don’t hesitate to contact us about CT scans for lung cancer, particularly if you meet the criteria for an annual screening. Our expert doctors and helpful staff will ensure that your questions will be answered. Together, we’ll discuss both the benefits and risks of the scan, and help you reach a decision that’s best for your health.