Should You Get a Lung Cancer Screening?
Some facts about cancer are more well known than others. For example, you may know that skin cancer is the most common cancer among both men and women. You may also be familiar with mammograms and colonoscopies and their importance in cancer screening. And when it comes to lung cancer, you probably know that smoking is the biggest culprit in causing this disease.
But did you know that lung cancer kills more people every year than breast, prostate, colon and pancreatic cancer combined? Or that lung cancer detected by traditional methods (meaning you visited your doctor because of an issue and lung cancer was found) has an average five-year survival rate of just 15 percent?
For people with a high risk of developing the disease, though, routine lung cancer screenings can make a big difference. By catching the disease in earlier stages, those five-year survival rates jump to 70 percent. And that’s just the beginning.
Michael Simoff, M.D., a pulmonologist at Henry Ford Health System, talks about the importance of lung cancer screening, who is considered at-risk, and how this screening method is beneficial for detecting more than just lung cancer.
Who is the lung cancer screening recommended for?
Dr. Simoff: The population we currently place at the highest risk of developing lung cancer are those ages 55-77 who have smoked for what we call “30 pack years,” meaning these people have smoked one pack per day for the last 30 years or two packs per day for the last 15 years. These people can also be either current smokers or someone who has quit within the last 15 years.
What is the goal of lung cancer screening?
Dr. Simoff: Exactly like with other cancer screenings, we are trying to find cancer at its earliest possible stage to improve the likelihood of eliminating the cancer and increasing chances for survival. We are finding cancer in about one in 320 people we screen, and in about 20 percent of people we are discovering other issues like coronary heart disease, early aneurysms, and other non-smoking-related conditions earlier than we may have otherwise.
What is the screening process like?
Dr. Simoff: The initial screening is a CT scan. Patients who have minimal to no findings will continue to get screened once per year for as long as necessary. If we see something marginally suspicious, patients may return for a follow-up screening in 3-6 months. For those who have abnormalities, our team will work with the patient to immediately schedule a PET scan and other follow-up appointments.
How can those who are at risk reduce their likelihood of developing lung cancer?
Dr. Simoff: Don’t smoke. Don’t start smoking. And if you do smoke, quit. Avoid secondhand and thirdhand smoke as much as you can. Smoking is the most significant risk factor for the development of lung cancer, and it’s also the culprit of other conditions like heart disease.
If you live in Michigan and have a finished basement where you spend a lot of time, make sure you test for radon. Radon is a natural radioactive gas found in the soil in Michigan in certain areas and can enter your basement through cracks in the foundation, and is linked to lung cancer.
Dr. Michael Simoff is a pulmonologist who sees patients at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit and West Bloomfield.