Should You Get Screened for Lung Cancer?

TULLAHOMA, TN (October 1, 2020) - Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related death in the U.S., accounting for 24% of all cancer deaths. Every year, about 200,000 people are diagnosed and 150,000 die. Cigarette smoking is the #1 cause of lung cancer linked to 80% to 90% of all lung cancers.

According to state data from the American Lung Association, the rate of new lung cancer cases in Tennessee is 75.5 and significantly higher than the national rate of 59.6. In Tennessee, the percent of people still living five years after being diagnosed with lung cancer (the survival rate) is 18.7 percent, which is significantly lower than the national rate of 21.7 percent. It ranks 36th among the 45 states with survival data, placing it in the bottom tier.

Despite the steady rise in this statistic over the past fifteen years, the number of people being screened for lung cancer falls far behind those screened for breast or colon cancers. This is an especially dangerous oversight if you are, or have been, a heavy smoker. Screening is looking for cancer before you have any symptoms, which can help find cancer at an early stage when it may be easier to treat.

“Patients whose lung cancer is detected in the earliest stage have a much better chance of survival,” says Dr. Prakash Patel, Pulmonary Medicine. “Conversely, survival rates for lung cancer are quite low when it’s diagnosed in the later stages of the disease. Through CT screening, we can catch the tumor early and offer the patient more treatment options, and more time for those treatments to work.”

According to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, annual screening with low-dose computed tomography (CT scan) is recommended for those who are:

  • Adults aged 50 to 80 years, and
  • Have a “20 pack-year smoking history” and
    • currently smoke, OR
    • Have quit within the past 15 years

A low-dose CT scan uses an X-ray machine to scan the body with low doses of radiation to make detailed pictures of the lungs. Lung cancer frequently has no symptoms at all in the early stages, contributing to the higher mortality rate.

Discuss any concerns you have with your primary care physician.