Annual low-dose CT scans could save you from lung cancer

Annual low-dose CT scans could save you from lung cancer

Laura Barcella, for American Lung Association’s LUNG FORCE InitiativePublished 9:19 a.m. ET Nov. 2, 2017

Are you at high risk for lung cancer? Take the quiz today.

Low-dose CT scans save lives

(Photo: American Lung Association’s LUNG FORCE Initiative)


Lung cancer is the number one cancer killer among women and men in the United States, killing 426 people every day. Though the five-year survival rate for lung cancer is 17.7 percent, among the lowest for all types of cancers, science is making promising progress when it comes to screening and early detection.

If you’re a former smoker who has quit, you’re making strides toward improving your health, but it is important to remember that many ex-smokers are still at high risk for lung cancer. While smoking is the biggest risk factor for lung cancer, there is a screening technique for high-risk former and current smokers that can detect lung cancer early — one that could potentially save your life.

Here are a few things you need to know about lung cancer early detection.

Low-dose CT (LDCT) scan may save your life

A low-dose CT scan can detect early-stage lung cancer before symptoms arise, when the disease is more curable. A low-dose CT scan is a special type of chest X-ray that takes snapshots of the lungs while you lie on a table that slides in and out of the X-ray machine. It is painless, quick and easy.

Lung cancer survival rates are five times higher when the cancer is detected in its earliest stages, and a low-dose CT scan makes early detection of lung cancer possible. If only half of the high-risk population were screened, more than 15,000 lives could be saved.

Who is at high risk for lung cancer? 

A new public service advertising campaign from the American Lung Association and the Ad Council, “Saved By The Scan,” aims to reach the estimated 9 million people in the U.S. who are considered at high risk for lung cancer. The campaign encourages these people to talk to their doctor about getting screened.

A person is considered high risk for lung cancer if they meet the following criteria: they’re between 55–80 years old; have a 30 “pack year” history of smoking (this means 1 pack a day for 30 years, 2 packs a day for 15 years, etc.); and are a current smoker, or a former smoker who has quit within the last 15 years.

Quitting smoking at any time benefits your overall health and lowers your chances of developing lung cancer. However, if you meet the high-risk criteria, regular screening for lung cancer is your best chance at catching it early, so talk to your doctor about getting screened. Annual lung cancer screening is recommended for those at high risk and for many people, the screening will be covered by your insurance at no cost.

Early detection is possible

Before the low-dose CT scan was found to save lives, the screening scans or tests to detect lung cancer in the early stages were ineffective. Because lungs have no nerve endings to feel pain from a tumor, and symptoms rarely appear until lung cancer has already progressed to later stages, most diagnoses were not made until the cancer had spread, making it much harder to treat.

Today, with the low-dose CT scan, it is possible to detect lung cancer early enough when it is more likely to be curable, which can drastically increase your chances of beating the disease. A low-dose CT scan is currently the only effective way to screen for lung cancer, with studies showing up to a 20 percent decline in the mortality ratethanks to these scans. This means it’s important to get screened if you are at high risk.

For those at risk, these tests can prove to be a lifeline. If you meet the criteria outlined above, visit “Saved By The Scan” to take the quiz and determine your eligibility for a lung cancer screening, or talk to your doctor.