I worry about lung cancer. I was a daily smoker for many years and I know from my work how deadly lung cancer can be. I also know many lung cancer patients have virtually no symptoms until the cancer had metastasized and become incurable. My father-in-law died six days after his diagnosis with lung cancer and had developed a cough just weeks before. So, I worry.
According to the American Lung Association, lung cancer is the most common cancer worldwide, accounting for 2.1 million new cases and 1.8 million deaths in 2018. It is the leading cancer killer for both men and women in the United States. Detecting lung cancer early can mean the difference between life and death. As a former smoker, I have cause for concern.
Fortunately, patients who meet the criteria are eligible to receive annual low-dose CT screening for lung cancer. Low-dose CT scans (LDCT scans) are non-invasive imaging studies that provide 3-dimensional x-rays of the lungs. They are much more detailed than traditional chest x-rays and can detect smaller lung cancers in early stages, increasing the patient’s treatment options and opportunity for a cure. The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force, recommends LDCT scans yearly for patients who:
have a 20 pack-year or more smoking history;
smoke now or have quit within the past 15 years; and
are between 50 and 80 years old
The American Cancer Society, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and other medical professional associations have similar guidelines.
I now meet the criteria and, at my annual exam, my primary care provider ordered an LDCT for me. My insurance company approved the test as I met the established criteria, and I scheduled the appointment at an outpatient imaging center near my home. Although I am, like a lot of people, often apprehensive about medical appointments and tests, I found the LDCT appointment to be a breeze. The time involved was less than 5 minutes in the CT room. My results were available to me online later that same day. I was happy and relieved to hear my lungs were clear. I made a note on my calendar and will have another LDCT in about a year. I also encouraged my family and friends who are or were smokers to get LDCT scans.
If you think you meet the criteria to receive this potentially life-saving screening exam, contact your primary care provider and get on the schedule for annual screening. Encourage your loved ones to do the same. Lung cancer can be beat, especially if caught early!