Lung cancer screening
Gregory Golden, DO, specializes in pulmonology and critical care medicine and is the director the Banner Northern Colorado Lung Cancer Screening Program.
Question: I used to be a smoker and worry that I might get lung cancer some day. Is there a way to screen for this disease?
Answer: Lung cancer is the most common cause of cancer death in the United States and more people die from lung cancer than breast, prostate and colon cancer combined.
For the first time, recent studies have shown that annual CAT scans in select individuals can decrease lung cancer mortality by 20 percent and decrease non-lung cancer mortality by 9.6 percent. Up until now, no screening regimen has been shown to improve survival from lung cancer. Unfortunately, many people may have early lung cancer and do not know it.
Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer. In addition, certain exposures and lung conditions such as emphysema or family history of lung cancer increases your risk.
Initially, lung cancer usually does not present symptoms or only mild symptoms. Common signs of lung cancer include:
- A change in an ongoing cough or a cough that produces a lot of mucus
- A change in the character of sputum produced, or streaks of blood
- Wheezing (a whistling or squeaky sound when you breathe)
- Chest tightness or difficulty breathing
- Weight loss
Unfortunately, when signs of lung cancer are noticed, it is often not curable.
If you think you or someone you love may benefit from lung cancer screening contact your primary care physician. Not everyone benefits from screening. It is important to determine if you would benefit or you would be undergoing unnecessary testing. The program can help guide you through this process.
If something is discovered on your imaging, you will be referred to a lung specialist who will help you understand the results. Not all abnormalities represent cancer and further imaging or testing may be necessary to understand the nature of your abnormality.
In addition, participating in the program may include assistance with smoking cessation as studies have shown that stopping smoking decreases risk of cancer in the future.
Many lives can be saved by detecting lung cancer at an earlier stage.