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Risks of Lung Cancer

The sooner lung cancer is diagnosed, the better the chances for survival. Until recently, however, early detection has been difficult—which may be one reason why lung cancer remains the No. 1 cancer killer of both men and women in the U.S.

But there is good news about the disease: Doctors now have a screening test that can catch lung cancer early. It's called low-dose computed tomography (LDCT).

LDCT produces cross-sectional images of the entire chest, including the lungs, using special x-ray equipment and sophisticated computers. These images enable doctors to detect very small nodules in the lung.

Who needs testing?

Anyone at high risk for lung cancer should get annual LDCT lung cancer screening, according to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. You are at high risk if all three of these things are true for you:

1. You have a pack-year smoking history of 30 years or more. The number of packs of cigarettes you smoked per day multiplied by the number of years you smoked equals your pack years. For example: 1.5 packs a day multiplied by 20 years equals 30 pack years.

2. You smoke now, or you quit within the last 15 years.

3. You're between 55 and 80 years old.

What are the risks and benefits?

The biggest benefit of LDCT is that it can find lung cancer in its beginning stages, which helps lower the risk of dying from the disease.

Early diagnosis also means that doctors can often use minimally invasive surgery to remove the cancer and preserve more lung tissue.

Other benefits of LDCT include:

  • It's fast, painless and noninvasive
  • It uses much less radiation than a traditional CT scan of the chest

The possible risks include the following:

  • False positives, perhaps leading to additional tests or more invasive ones.
  • Sometimes false negatives.
  • Insurance and Medicare may not cover LDCT.

If you think you're at high risk for lung cancer, ask your doctor about getting screened with LDCT.

Next steps

Ready to become smoke free? Rush Oak Park Hospital can connect you to smoking cessation programs. Just call (708) 660-2005 and we’ll help you get on the right track.

If you are concerned you may have lung cancer or if you’ve already been diagnosed with lung cancer, there are specialists at Rush Oak Park Hospital who can help. Call (708) 660-INFO (4636) to find a doctor who is right for you.

Additional sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Radiological Society of North America

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