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Should You Have a Lung Cancer Screening?

A simple image exam can improve treatment and save lives.

Lung cancer is sneaky. It often doesn’t present any signs or symptoms until in a more advanced stage. That makes treating lung cancer especially difficult. In fact, lung cancer remains the leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States.

The most effective way to decrease your risk of developing lung cancer is to stay away from cigarettes or, if you smoke, to quit.

A second way to combat lung cancer is to be screened. Medical imaging with low-dose CT screenings have changed the way lung cancer is detected. Early detection can give lung cancer patients greater access to curative treatments. Unfortunately, the American Lung Association reports that only about 4% of all eligible patients actually have a lung cancer screening.

Who Should Be Screened?

CT lung cancer screenings have proven so effective in early cancer detection that in March 2021 the United States Preventative Services Task Force expanded eligibility criteria for who should have a CT lung cancer screening. After talking with your doctor, be sure to check with your insurance carrier to see if you qualify under current or new guidelines.

CT Lung Cancer Screening Criteria - March 2021

What is a pack year?

packyear is a term used to describe the number of cigarettes a person has smoked over time. It is calculated by multiplying the number of packs of cigarettes smoked per day by the number of years the person has smoked.

  • One pack of cigarettes a day for 1 year = 1 pack year
  • One pack a day for 10 years = 10 pack years
  • One pack a day for 20 years = 20 pack years
  • Two packs a day for 10 years = 20 pack years
  • A half pack a day for 40 years = 20 pack years

Data shows that people with a 20 pack-years history of smoking are at a significantly increased risk of dying from lung cancer and the risk persists for 15 years after the quit date.

What is a CT Lung Cancer Screening?

A lung cancer screening is a preventative health check, like a mammogram or colonoscopy. A low-dose chest CT scan can identify lung cancer and decrease the risk of dying from lung cancer in high risk patients. At WakeRad UNC REX, we are extremely sensitive to the amount of radiation used during any CT procedure. We carefully match a patient’s weight, height and health considerations to the amount of radiation needed to accurately obtain the best quality images at the lowest possible radiation dose. The x-ray radiation involved in a lung cancer screening is 4-5 times less than what’s involved in a diagnostic CT and is lower than the average background radiation you experience throughout a year.

 Why should you be screened?

During a large study called the National Lung Cancer Screening Trial, people at high risk for lung cancer and who underwent annual, low-dose chest CT scans had a 20% reduction in their risk of dying from lung cancer when compared to people who were screened with only a chest x-ray.

How often do you need to be screened?

Both the National Cancer Institute and WakeRad UNC REX recommend that high risk patients are screened once a year.

Are screenings covered by insurance?

Medicare and most major insurers cover lung cancer screenings for patients who meet the screening criteria. Your healthcare provider can help you determine whether you are a candidate for annual low-dose CT lung cancer screenings.

When you meet certain criteria, lung cancer screenings are typically covered by Medicare and most major insurance carriers. However, with new guidelines set by the USPSTF in March 2021, Wake Rad UNC REX recommends that patients talk with their healthcare provider to determine if they are a candidate for a CT lung cancer screening and then check with their insurance provider to verify that they qualify for this screening.

Where should you be screened?

WakeRad UNC REX is the first outpatient imaging provider in the area to achieve accreditation by the American College of Radiology (ACR) and is designated as a lung cancer screening center. The strict standards of accreditation mean our offices have:

  • Up-to-date CT scanners that ensure a low radiation dose is administered.
  • Experienced radiologists who interpret chest CT exams. All of our lung cancer screening exams are interpreted by radiologists with expertise in diagnosing diseases of the chest.

WakeRad UNC REX offers low-dose CT lung cancer screenings at all of our offices throughout the greater Triangle area where CT services are provided.

Dr. Camelo Gullotto is a body imaging radiologists at WakeRad UNC REX.

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