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Should I get screened for lung cancer?

In the U.S., lung cancer is the second most common cancer in both women and men. It is also the leading cause of death from cancer, and longtime smokers are at a way higher risk. “Lung cancer is typically not detected early enough,” explains Michael Henson, MD, radiologist at Kalispell Regional Healthcare (KRH). The good news is we can reduce the risk of dying from lung cancer by 20 to 40% by screening for early lung cancer with a low dose chest CT. This is why providers across the nation are highly encouraging lung cancer screening to those who are at high risk.

In recent years, a test known as a low-dose CT scan has been studied in people with a high risk of getting lung cancer. “The LDCT scans help us find cancer in its earlier stages, and this helps us treat the cancer most effectively,” states Dr. Henson. Research has shown that using these screening CT scans to screen people at higher risk of lung cancer reduces the lung cancer deaths by up to 40%.

What are the benefits from getting screened?

  • The main benefit is that those who get screened have a way lower chance of dying from lung cancer due to early detection. When cancer is found at an early stage, it can be treated successfully.
  • CT scans are fast, easy and painless, which is important for patients who have trouble holding their breath.
  • No radiation remains in the patient’s body after a CT examination.
  • When cancer is found by being screened, it’s often at an early stage, which means patients can often undergo minimally invasive surgery and have less lung tissue removed or focused radiation treatment.

Who should get screened?

The USPSTF (U.S. Preventive Services Task Force) recommends yearly lung cancer screening for people who meet all three of these criteria –

  • Are between 55 and 80 years old
  • Have a history of heavy smoking
  • Smoke now or have quit within the past 15 years

What does the screening process look like?

The screening process is very quick and painless. At the time of screening, you will be exposed to low levels of radiation during the test, and the levels used are much lower than a regular CT scan that’s used if you have symptoms of cancer.

If you feel as though you meet the criteria to get screened, call your primary care provider for a referral and take that next step in lowering your risk for cancer. Learn more about our Cancer Care Services.