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Lowering Lung Cancer Deaths

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Lowering Lung Cancer Deaths

by Mary Mullins, RN
Director, John H. ‘Jack’ Burbage, Jr. Regional Cancer Care Center

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States and the only way to detect it early enough to impact outcomes is through a low dose CT scan. Back in 2002 through 2009, a huge study took place called the National Lung Screening Trial. The result of that study showed we can reduce lung cancer deaths by 20% if high risk populations get screened with a low dose CT scan.

So what is a low dose CT scan? Patients lie on a table while an x-ray machine uses a low dose amount of radiation to see inside the lungs. The test takes only a few minutes and is not painful or invasive.

Most lung cancers are diagnosed after the cancer has spread, or metastasized, to other areas of the body. If lung cancer is diagnosed while it’s confined to the lung, the five-year survival rate is 54%. If the cancer has spread to just one lymph node the survival rates goes down to 26%, and if it has spread to other body parts, the five-year survival rate is 4%.

Most signs and symptoms of lung cancer don’t develop until the disease is in an advanced state. Some of the symptoms include a new cough that will not go away, coughing up blood, shortness of breath, unexplained weight loss, chest pain and hoarseness. About nine out of every 10 people with lung cancer die from the disease because it was discovered after it had spread.

It’s vital to diagnose lung cancer early, and our only tool is low dose lung CT scans. So who should get scanned? Anyone who is 55-80 years old who is a current smoker or quit less than 15 years ago should consider their smoking history. Anyone within those age ranges who is or was a heavy smoker, with a 30 year pack history, is a candidate for low dose lung CT screening. Pack history is determined by multiplying the packs per day smoked by the number of years smoked. So a person who smoked one pack a day for 30 years or someone who smoked two packs a day for 15 years would meet that qualification.

Remember: the best way to lower your risk of lung cancer is to stop smoking. More than eight out of 10 lung cancer cases are the result of smoking. There are other risk factors such as environmental exposures like asbestos and a family history of lung cancer. Your primary care provider can order a low dose lung CT scan if you fit the criteria. About 8.6 million Americans fit the criteria for screening. Most insurances also cover the test if the patient fits the criteria.

For more information about lose dose lung CT scans, visit