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Lung Cancer (CT Scan)

Issue: Conditions

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CT Lung Cancer Screening for Smokers. Should You Get It?

By Dr. Kristie

Are you concerned about your risk for developing lung cancer? Sadly, there are over 200,000 new lung cancer cases in the United States each year, many of which occur in smokers and former smokers. Once diagnosed, lung cancer generally has a poor prognosis because it is difficult to detect in its early stages when the cure rate would be higher.

Typically, a patient presents to his or her doctor with symptoms of

  • chronic cough,
  • weakness,
  • breathing difficulties, and
  • weight loss.

At this stage the tumor is usually so advanced that a complete cure is unlikely.

Recently, there has been increasing interest in using CT lung cancer screening to detect lung tumors when they are small and more readily cured. The thought is that screening former smokers and other person at high risk for lung cancer via CT scan might allow earlier detection of the cancer so the patient would have a better chance of a cure. If you are a former smoker or at high risk for lung cancer, should you get CT lung cancer screening?


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One recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that yearly CT lung cancer screening in smokers and former smokers using a spiral CT scan did detect cancers at a stage in which they were more curable. While this sounds encouraging, another study showed that although detection rates were higher using CT screening, the overall mortality rate in the smoker was only very slightly reduced because of these screenings.

Although there was a reduced mortality from lung cancer, the smokers were still dying due to other smoking related complications. Even though CT lung cancer screening was effective for its specific purpose, the overall mortality rate in these smokers and former smokers was almost the same.

Although a CT scan of the lungs may pick up lung tumors at an earlier stage when they are smaller and potentially more curable, as the previous study showed, it does not necessarily reduce mortality from other smoking related complications. Plus, CT lung cancer screening is quite expensive. Even more disturbing is the fact that a CT scan can pick up nodules that are completely benign but require more invasive testing and biopsy to confirm the fact that the nodule is not cancer.



For this reason, your doctor may not recommend CT screening even if you are a current or former smoker or otherwise at high risk of lung cancer as long as you’re not manifesting symptoms.

What is the best thing to do if you are concerned about your lung cancer risk? Stop smoking immediately. By taking this simple step, your lung cancer risk will drop by half at the end of a ten-year period. Adopting a healthy lifestyle and a diet rich in fruits and vegetables may also have some additional protective benefit.

If you are considering whether to get CT lung cancer screening be sure you’re reducing your risk of dying from another smoking related complication by kicking the habit.

About the Author

She is a Medical Doctor with a concentration in Family Practice. She also has an undergraduate degree in both Biology and Psychology and masters in Clinical Pathology.

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Disclaimer: Articles not intended to Diagnose, Treat, Cure or Prevent Diseases!

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