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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 already smoke, to quit. The American Lung Association (ALA) says that smoking can increase your chance of developing lung cancer 20-fold.

A second way to combat lung cancer is to be screened. Medical imaging and 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 ALA reports that only about 4% of all eligible patients actually have a lung cancer screening.

Who Should Be Screened?

  • You’re a smoker.
  • Talk with your doctor about programs and medications that may help you quit. Stopping smoking, at any age, can improve your health.
  • If you are a smoker between the ages of 55 and 77, you are a prime candidate for a lung cancer screening.
  • You meet any of these conditions.
  • You smoked at least 1 pack of cigarettes per day for 30 years or 30 pack-years.
  • You smoked two packs per day for 15 years. This also equals 30 pack-years.
  • You quit smoking during the past 15 years.
  • You are a current smoker.

Data shows that people with a 30 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.

CT lung cancer screenings have proven so effective in early cancer detection that the United States Preventative Services Task Force is considering expanding eligibility criteria. WakeRad UNC REX is closely following this change and we recommend patients talk with their doctor to determine if they are a candidate for a CT lung cancer screening.

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.

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 body imaging radiologists who have received additional subspecialty fellowship training in diagnosing diseases of the chest, abdomen and pelvis.

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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