Lung cancer is a type of cancer that affects the lungs. Cancer most often starts in the cells of the lining of the airways in the lungs. When these cells become abnormal, they grow uncontrollably, and cancer develops. There are two main types of lung cancer- non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and small cell lung cancer (SCLC).
Lung cancer screening
Screening tests are done when someone does not have any symptoms of the disease but are looking for it before it becomes symptomatic. There is currently only one screening test in use for lung cancer screening, which is the low dose computed tomography (CT) scan.
Who should be screened?
Lung cancer screening is not recommended for everyone. Those who are at highest risk of developing lung cancer are recommended for screening. This group includes adults aged 50 to 80 years old, who have a 20 pack-year smoking history, and who currently smoke or have quit smoking in the last 15 years.
A pack-year history is a measure of how much someone has smoked over a specific time period. It is calculated by multiplying the number of years someone has smoked by the average number of packs of cigarettes smoked per day.
Screening is recommended to be done once a year. Once someone has quit smoking for at least 15 years or has developed another health condition that is limiting their life expectancy, screening can be discontinued.
Low-dose CT scan
The screening test used for lung cancer is the low-dose CT scan. There is no pain with this exam, and it only takes a few minutes. During this test, you lie on a table of a CT machine, which is an open, donut-shaped x-ray machine. The table will move you through the machine while low amounts of radiation are used to take pictures of your lungs.
The radiologist will then evaluate the scan, looking for any nodules or areas that look suspicious for lung cancer. Based on the results of the CT, further instructions will be given.
Despite the high rates of lung cancer incidence and mortality, many people are unaware of the symptoms of lung cancer or that it is possible to detect the disease early through screening. It is important to raise awareness of both the risks and benefits of screening so that people can make informed decisions about whether or not to be screened.