Primary Care in Rochester and Kasson

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Who needs lung-cancer screening - and when?

12/16/2019 by Denise Dupras, MD

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As with any screening test, the goal is to detect cancer before you have any symptoms, and when it's potentially treatable. These FAQs can help you determine if, who and when screening for lung cancer might be needed. 

Who should be screened?

Smoking is a recognized risk factor for lung cancer. The number of pack years of smoking and current smoking status help determine your risk for lung cancer. For example, one pack year is equal to smoking one pack per day for one year, or two packs per day for half a year. If you're currently a smoker, or have smoked more than 30 pack years, talk to your provider to see if you need to be screened for lung cancer. 

When should you be screened?

Calculators have been developed to help your doctor determine if you should have a low-dose CT scan. While there are many guidelines and not all experts agree, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends annual screening with low-dose CT for smokers or individuals who: 

  • Have quit less than 15 years ago
  • Have a 30 pack year smoking history
  • Are between the ages of 55 and 80\

Other groups recommend stopping screening at ages 74 to 77. An important consideration when deciding whether or not to get a CT scan is your general health and life expectancy. 

What type of screening is used? 

Currently, only low-dose CT scanning is recommended for lung-cancer screening. Chest x-rays aren't sensitive and specific enough to detect lung cancer early enough to make a difference and prevent death from lung cancer. 

But the best thing for you to do if you smoke is to stop, which reduces your risk for developing lung cancer. 

Dr. Denise Dupras is a general internist in Employee and Community Health's Division of Community Internal Medicine (CIM). She completed her MD-PhD at Mayo Medical School and her residency in Internal Medicine at Mayo Clinic Rochester. Her interests include medical education and evidence-based medicine.