Low Dose Lung Cancer Screening
If you are a smoker or a former smoker, a simple screening at St. Joseph Regional Medical Center could save your life. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. and 85% of cases occur in cigarette smokers. Studies show low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) lung scans using low doses of radiation can effectively detect lung cancer in its earliest stages and most importantly, lower your risk of dying from lung cancer.
LDCT works much like an x-ray exam to produce pictures of your chest and lungs. This high-quality lung screening detects lung abnormalities but with 90 percent less ionizing radiation than a conventional CT scan. If you have a high risk of lung cancer but no signs or symptoms, a LDCT screening could help you catch potentially cancerous spots at their earliest and most treatable stage.
You are considered high risk if you are:
- Between the ages of 50 and 77
- Have a smoking history of 20 pack years (1 pack per day for 20 years)
- Currently a smoker or have quit in the last 15 years
The Low Dose CT (LDCT) lung cancer screening program at St. Joseph Regional Medical Center offers patients with a high risk of lung cancer the opportunity to screen for and diagnose lung cancer before symptoms develop. LDCT lung cancer screening provides a diagnostic quality chest CT that focuses on the pulmonary system, while providing a reduced dose to patients. Diagnosing and treating lung cancer before significant progression occurs will allow patients to experience higher rates of success in fighting this disease. If an LDCT screening exam results in findings that require follow-up care, we have all of the quality equipment and highly trained staff to complete additional imaging needs including CT biopsy and PET imaging as well as comprehensive cancer services to handle all of your healthcare needs.
Early detection is a proven, successful strategy for fighting many forms of cancer. Screening with LDCT for people with a high risk of lung cancer is the only recommended screening test for this disease. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death - more than cancers of the breast, prostate, colon and pancreas combined. A study conducted by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) showed that screening people at high risk for lung cancer with low dose computed tomography (LDCT) scans reduced lung cancer deaths by 20%. Another study estimates that early detection and treatment of lung cancer could save over 70,000 lives a year in the United States.
Lung cancer occurs when cells in the lungs begin to grow abnormally. Cancer cells do not respond to regular cell growth, division, and death signals like healthy cells do. They also don’t organize normally. Instead they grow into a tumor, which may invade surrounding layers of tissue and possibly spread to other organs.
Lung cancer can start in the cells lining the bronchi (the two main airways that branch off the trachea, or windpipe) or within the lungs—in the bronchioles (smaller branches) or alveoli (air sacs). It often takes years to develop.
The cancer cells can enter the lymph system and begin to grow in lymph nodes around the bronchi and in the mediastinum (area between the lungs). If lung cancer has reached the lymph nodes, it is likely to have spread to other parts of the body as well.
The risk of lung cancer increases with the length of time and number of cigarettes you’ve smoked. Lung cancer occurs most frequently among people older than age 50 who have smoked for many years.
Cigarette smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals, many of them cancer-causing substances (carcinogens) that damage the cells in the lungs. At first your body may be able to repair the damage caused by the carcinogens, but with repeated exposure, the damage causes your cells to act abnormally and eventually become cancerous.
Lung Cancer Symptoms
The symptoms of lung cancer can take years to develop, and often there are no symptoms at all until the later stages of the disease. The early symptoms of lung cancers are often mistaken for less serious problems, or they are thought to be related to tobacco use alone. Of course, it is important to remember that lung cancer can develop even in people who haven’t smoked.
Early signs and symptoms of lung cancer may include any of the following:
- Coughing: If you develop a new cough, you have a persistent cough that lasts for more than two weeks or causes pain, or you cough up blood (a serious symptom), tell your doctor.
- Chest infection: Chest infections, like bronchitis or pneumonia, that don’t get better or recur, may be symptomatic of lung cancer.
- Trouble breathing: If you experience shortness of breath or wheezing, see your doctor to find out the reason.
- Chest discomfort: This could be a symptom of several different problems, including a heart or lung condition. If it’s persistent or sudden and severe, get medical attention immediately.
- Loss of appetite: Many illnesses, including cancer, cause changes in appetite. Keep track of this symptom and report it to your doctor if it persists.
- Weight loss: If you are losing weight for no known reason, let your doctor know.
- Fatigue: Excessive tiredness or weakness is common for many illnesses, including cancer.
Late signs and symptoms of lung cancer may include:
- Neck and facial swelling
- Aching bones or joints or back pain
- Headaches and dizziness
- Lumps in the neck
Advanced lung cancer may cause pain, swelling, or weakness in or around the chest or in distant parts of the body, which may indicate that cancer has spread.
Conditions other than cancer may cause these symptoms. If you have any symptoms that concern you or if you are at high risk for developing lung cancer, talk to your doctor.
Is a Lung Screening Right for Me?
Lung cancer screening is not appropriate for everyone. Only those considered at high risk for lung cancer should be screened. Individuals are considered high risk for lung cancer and eligible for LDCT screening if he/she meets the following eligibility requirements:
- Be between the age of 55 -80 (55 – 77 with Medicare/Medicaid coverage)
- Are asymptomatic (no signs or symptoms of lung cancer)
- Have a tobacco smoking history of at least 30 pack-years
- Example: 30 pack years = smoking 1 pack/day for 30 years or 2 packs/day for 15 years)
- Are a current smoker or have quit smoking within the last 15 years
The American Lung Association offers an online quiz to quickly determine if you should be screened for lung cancer or contact your healthcare provider today to see if you qualify. Your primary care provider may discuss the risks and benefits of Low Dose CT lung cancer screening with you to make sure LDCT screening is right for you. To help you determine if LDCT screening is appropriate for you, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services has developed a Patient Decision Aid to help you with this process.
An important consideration for screening is whether the level of individual risk is high enough for screening to be of benefit. Our physicians or your primary care provider can discuss the benefits and risks of screening to help you determine whether LDCT lung cancer screening is right for you. If you do not have a primary care provider established, please select one of the St. Joseph Medical Group Providers that is right for you.
If you have question about LDCT lung cancer screening, please feel free to contact the St. Joseph Diagnostic Imaging Department at 208-799-5335.
Need Help Quitting Tobacco?
If you need help quitting smoking or tobacco use, please contact the St. Joseph Regional Medical Center Cardiopulmonary department at 208-799-5233 to obtain smoking cessation guidance.