Do You Need a Lung Cancer Screening?

October 31, 2016

By Rana Hawamdeh, M.D.
Mercy Clinic Oncology and Hematology

JOPLIN, Mo. - Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the United States, primarily because late diagnosis is a major obstacle to a cure. Lung cancer begins with the growth of abnormal cells in the lungs, which multiply and spread to other areas of the respiratory system, as well as nearby lymph nodes.

It’s no surprise that lung cancer often is due to the effects of smoking. While this isn’t the case exclusively, smoking is the main culprit. The risk for lung cancer increases with the number of packs of cigarettes smoked per day and the number of years spent smoking.

Other risk factors, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, include secondhand smoke, radon, workplace substances such as asbestos, arsenic and diesel exhaust, personal or family history, radiation therapy to the chest and diet. Common symptoms of lung cancer include cough, blood in the sputum (a mixture of saliva and mucus coughed up), shortness of breath, weight loss and chest pain.

Lung cancer screenings
One of the best ways to check for lung cancers is a screening. Mercy offers low-dose CT scans to find cancer earlier, giving you a better chance of being cured.

It’s important to know there are benefits to any screening, including lung cancer. According to the Lung Cancer Alliance, those include:

  • Survival. The most obvious benefit to lung cancer screening is that lung cancer caught early is more likely to be treatable and cured.
  • Research advances. Screening also can help speed up research that will lead to improved ways of detecting lung cancer in the future.

Should you get a screening?
If you are unsure about whether to have a screening, answer these questions:

  • Are you 55 to 77 years old?
  • Are you a smoker or a former smoker who has quit in the last 15 years?
  • Do you have at least a 30 pack-per-year smoking history?
  • Are you willing to receive a life-changing treatment?

If you answered yes to all of the questions, a lung cancer screening is right for you.

How do I get a screening?
Lung cancer screenings are only available through an order from your physician. Talk to your family doctor about a low-dose CT lung cancer screening.

Screening test
Lung cancer screening is done using an imaging machine to produce a low-dose spiral (or helical) CT scan of the chest. This scan uses a series of X-rays to show the shape, size and location of anything abnormal in the chest that might signal the need for follow up. According to the Lung Cancer Alliance, CT scans are very sensitive and can show cancerous and non-cancerous areas.

During a CT scan, you lie very still on a table, which is slowly moved through the CT scanner. An X-ray machine rotates around you and takes pictures from many angles.
A computer combines the pictures into a detailed image.

The procedure takes less than 30 seconds. No medications or injections are needed, and you can eat or drink before the exam. As long as clothing does not contain metal, there may be no need to change clothes.

You must be able to hold your breath for several seconds. That way, your lungs will not move during the scan and images will be clear.

The results from your lung cancer scan will be sent to the doctor who referred you for screening. Your doctor will review the results of the scan and will let you know if any follow up is needed.

Because a spiral CT scan is so detailed, it is possible that something will show up on the exam that is not cancer. Your doctor will discuss the best way to follow up on any test results.

Mercy Clinic Joplin specialists offer the latest tools for diagnosing and treating lung cancer. It takes a coordinated team to treat and support patients through the entire process. Mercy offers compassionate care designed to address patients’ physical, emotional and spiritual needs.

For more information, call the Mercy Cancer Center at 417-782-7722.