A 20 second scan could give you more time to check items off your bucket list by adding precious years to your life. Find out if you should be scheduling your screening today.

Should you be screened annually for lung cancer? Yes, if you are between the ages of 55 and 74, are a current smoker, or if you have quit, but had smoked a pack or more of cigarettes a day for 30 years.

Jorge J. Nieva, MD, associate professor of clinical medicine at the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center at Keck Medicine of USC, knows that when it comes to fighting cancer, it is always best to catch it early. We asked him to explain how screening for lung cancer works and discuss its overall benefits and risks.

When should non-smokers be worried?

In addition to being exposed to toxins or having a history of lung cancer in your family, if you have shortness of breath, a cough that won’t go away, unexplainable weight loss have pain in your chest or cough up blood, Dr. Nieva recommends making an appointment to get evaluated.

How does screening work?

There are no needles, no pain and you won’t be put into a tube. Instead, screening for lung cancer is performed with a Low Dose Computed Tomography (LDCT). A patient lies down on a table that moves slowly through a doughnut-shaped CT machine that scans cross-sections of the body.

Why aren’t more people screened?

Unfortunately, the number of people who choose to be screened is low compared to the size of the smoker population over 55+. Dr. Nieva explains there are several reasons for this:

  • Lack of awareness by the patient.
  • Common false positive results, which scare people away. Why be tested, they figure, if so many results come back abnormal only to be later refuted when no lung cancer is detected?
  • Health insurance approvals, which can require some back-and-forth before approval is granted and involve documentation of risk and benefits from a primary care provider.

Is the screening accurate?

“Screening has a very low accuracy rate if you include false positives but it doesn’t really miss cancers,” said Dr. Nieva. “Additionally, the data that supports lung cancer screening is better data than what exists for mammography, colonoscopy, prostate exams and PSA testing. Overall, the LDCT scan has demonstrated to improve survival in the screened population, and also can identify treatable problems like emphysema and coronary artery disease in people who undergo the test

A recent screening trial conducted by the National Cancer Institute found that LDCT screenings detected significantly more patients with lung cancer than standard chest X-rays. In fact, LDCT screenings were associated with a 20 percent reduction in lung cancer-related deaths.

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms discussed, consult with your medical provider.

Visit one of the world-renowned specialists at the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center at Keck Medicine of USC to learn more about screenings and how they might benefit you. If you are in the Los Angeles area, make an appointment by calling (800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273) or visiting http://cancer.keckmedicine.org/lungscreening/.

By Heidi Tyline King