ThedaCare Health Matters

Are lung cancer screenings right for you?

Lung cancer is the second leading cancer diagnosis in men and women but is the leading cause of cancer deaths. There had been no effective way to screen for lung cancer in the past. However, relatively recently, guidelines have been established for screening selected individuals for lung cancer.

A number of factors are necessary to make cancer screenings effective and acceptable practice. First of all, the screening technique has to be able to identify the cancer in someone who is asymptomatic and at an early stage that is potentially curable. Secondly, the screening has to be safe so that people are not being harmed by the screening process. Also, the person being screened must be prepared to accept the results and potentially undergo further diagnostic testing (possibly invasive) and treatment. In addition, the cost has to be reasonable. Lastly, the prevalence of disease should be relatively high in the population being screened by identifying factors that indicate those at highest risk.

Lung cancer screening has been difficult due to the relatively short period of time people are asymptomatic and that the tumor is in a treatable stage. Lung cancer also tends to be difficult to treat though there have been advances and improvement in treatment response rates.

Attempts to screen with routine chest x-rays have not been effective. However, the use of low dose CT scans (LDCT) of the lungs done annually has been shown to decrease lung cancer death by 20 percent. The population at greatest risk is relatively easy to define since the overwhelming number (but not all) of lung cancers is in people who smoke.

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