November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month. According to the Centers for Disease Control, cigarette smoking is linked to about 80% to 90% of lung cancer deaths in the United States. Secondhand smoke (smoke from other people’s cigarettes, pipes, or cigars), radon gas, which occurs naturally from rocks and dirt, and substances such as asbestos, arsenic, diesel exhaust, silica, and chromium can also cause lung cancer.
Now that you know these causes of lung cancer, CDC recommends doing the following to reduce your risk for lung cancer:
- Don’t smoke,
- Avoid secondhand smoke,
- Get your home tested for radon gas, and
- Follow safety guidelines at work for substances that can cause cancer.
For smokers who have struggled to quit, Mayo Clinic’s Nicotine Dependence Center offers caring and non-judgmental support and works to help you develop the skills needed to stop using tobacco.
According to the Mayo Clinic website, lung cancer screening is a process that’s used to detect the presence of lung cancer in otherwise healthy people with a high risk of lung cancer. Doctors use a low-dose computerized tomography (LDCT) scan of the lungs to look for lung cancer. If lung cancer is detected at an early stage, it’s more likely to be cured with treatment.
You should discuss the benefits and risks of lung cancer screening using LDCT with your health care provider. Mayo Clinic notes that lung cancer screening is usually reserved for people with the greatest risk of lung cancer, including:
- Older adults who are current or former smokers. Lung cancer screening is generally offered to smokers and former smokers 55 and older.
- People who have smoked heavily for many years. You may consider lung cancer screening if you have a history of smoking for 30 pack years or longer. Pack years are calculated by multiplying the number of packs of cigarettes smoked a day and the number of years that you smoked.
For example, a person with 30 pack years of smoking history may have smoked a pack a day for 30 years, two packs a day for 15 years or three-quarters of a pack a day for 40 years. Even if your smoking habits changed over the years, your recollection about your smoking history can be used to determine whether lung cancer screening may be beneficial for you.
- People who once smoked heavily but quit. If you were a heavy smoker for a long time and you quit smoking, you may consider lung cancer screening.
- People in generally good health. If you have serious health problems, you may be less likely to benefit from lung cancer screening and more likely to experience complications from follow-up tests. For this reason, lung cancer screening is offered to people who are in generally good health.
Screening is generally not recommended for those who have poor lung function or other serious conditions that would make surgery difficult. Mayo Clinic’s lung cancer screening website indicates this might include:
- People with adverse health issues such as those who need continuous supplemental oxygen, have experienced unexplained weight loss in the past year, have coughed up blood recently or who have had a chest CT scan in the last year.
- People with a history of lung cancer. If you were treated for lung cancer more than five years ago, you may consider lung cancer screening.
- People with other risk factors for lung cancer. People who have other risk factors for lung cancer may include those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), those with a family history of lung cancer and those who are exposed to asbestos at work.
Together, you and your health care provider can decide whether screening is right for you.
If you and your health care provider determine you are a candidate for lung cancer screening, the obvious next question is, how long should you continue to be screened for lung cancer? Unfortunately, there is no specific consensus at what age lung cancer screening should be stopped. In general, you should continue annual lung cancer screening until you are unlikely to benefit from screening, such as if a serious health condition has been diagnosed.
For additional information about lung cancer and lung cancer screening:
CDC: Lung Cancer Screening Quiz – 4 questions about lung cancer screening
Dr. Shanda Blackmon, a thoracic surgeon at Mayo Clinic, explains lung cancer screening and surgical options for treating the disease, September 2018
Mayo Clinic: Lung Cancer Screening
CDC: Lung Cancer Screening: Is it right for you?
Have you been screened for lung cancer or participated in a lung cancer screening trial? What has been your experience with lung cancer screening? Feel free to share your experiences here.
Find support from people like you in the Mayo Clinic Connect Lung Cancer group or in the discussion on trying to quit smoking while undergoing medical treatment.