Screening for Lung Cancer

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Many people have high risk of lung cancer, such as heavy smokers, smokers for long duration and these high-risk individuals should get screening for lung cancer. Screening detects cancer before signs, symptoms appear, and usually the detection is made in early stage of disease, which makes it more treatable with better outcome.

What screening method is available for lung cancer?

For lung cancer the only screening method available is low dose computed tomography (or low-dose ct scan). However, this carry its own risks (discussed later in this article).id-100228583

Who should get screened for lung cancer?

The uspstf (united states preventive services task force) recommends yearly lung cancer screening using low-dose ct scan, for the following individuals,

  • A person having history of heavy smoking, and still smokes or quit smoking not more than 15 years ago (i.e. Quit smoking in past 15 years) and age between 55 and 80 years.
  • Heavy smoking is defined as smoking history of 30 pack years. A pack year of smoking is smoking of average of one pack cigarettes a day for one year. So, heavy smoking can be smoking of two packs of cigarettes a day for 15 years or smoking of one pack of cigarettes a day for 30 years.

Is there any risk associated with screening for lung cancer?

There are mainly three important risks associated with screening for lung cancer. They are,

  1. Radiation from repeated (yearly) use of low-dose ct scan (ct scan is nothing but x-rays) can cause cancer in otherwise healthy persons.
  2. Screening for lung cancer every year can lead to what is known as “overdiagnosis”. Screening for lung cancer can lead to diagnosis of cancer that otherwise may never cause any problem to the individual. Overdiagnosis can be cause for treatment that is not otherwise required.
  3. Last, but not the least, false positive result of lung cancer screening. That is, diagnosis of lung cancer, when there is actually no cancer. False positive result of lung cancer screening can lead to treatment and follow up tests as well as surgeries that are not required at all. This is a great risk indeed and it should be carefully considered.

Hence, lung cancer screening is recommended only in individuals who at very great risk of the disease. If you think you should get screening for lung cancer done, consult your doctor and learn pros and cons of the screening and make informed decision.

When lung cancer screening should be stopped?

Lung cancer screening should be stopped when,

  • Individual turns 81 years
  • Stopped smoking for more than 15 years ago
  • If any individual develops certain medical condition that makes surgery for lung cancer, unlikely to be useful or if patient is not willing to undergo surgery.

 

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