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Lung Cancer Awareness Month: Annual Lung Cancer Screenings Approved for Older Smokers

Friday, November 15, 2013

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in both men and women in the US. But up until recently, no screening methods had been deemed successful in detecting lung cancer at earlier stages. That all changed early this year, when the United States Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommended that individuals with specific risk factors (see below) be screened annually after a study showed that low-dose CT scans can reduce lung cancer mortality by 20 percent in high-risk patients.

“Lung cancer kills more people annually than prostate, breast and colon cancers combined,” says Alicia McKelvey, MD, Main Line Health thoracic surgeon. “Prostate, breast and colon cancer all have well established and useful screening tests. Now, we have the potential to reduce deaths from lung cancer through early diagnosis, using screening CT’s.”

The low-dose CT scan of the lungs allows potential tumors to be diagnosed earlier, which increases the likelihood of a long-term cure. Although the radiation used during the screenings presents a small risk, the benefits far outweigh any potential consequences.

"It’s important to use low dose screening CT's for lung cancer in the appropriate patients," says Dr. McKelvey.

What determines a high-risk patient?
• Smokers between ages 55–74 who have a 30-pack year history (1 pack per day for 30 years) or more
• Those who have quit within the past 15 years
• Patients with a prior history of cancer or exposure to known lung carcinogens

If you fall into these categories, Dr. McKelvey recommends talking to your primary care doctor about getting screened. 

Although lung cancer screening will help detect lung cancer earlier, the truth remains that the most effective way to avoid a lung cancer diagnosis is to never start smoking. To learn more about Main Line Health’s smoking cessation classes, visit mainlinehealth.org/events.

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