Lung/bronchus cancer is the second most common cancer in Orange County and also the leading cause of cancer death. But do you know if you should be screened for it? There are some key factors that would make you a good candidate. And if you do qualify for a screening, you should schedule a test—the sooner, the better.
“When lung cancer is discovered early on through screening, the chances are good that it can be cured,” said Tingting Tan, M.D., Ph.D., a medical oncologist specializing in thoracic cancers at City of Hope Newport Beach. “People at risk for lung cancer should get screened before they experience symptoms — such as a persistent cough, chest pain, or shortness of breath — because by the time they do, the disease is often at an advanced stage.”
Several of the symptoms are also associated with other health issues, which can sometimes delay a diagnosis while the cause is determined. “Time is of the essence with lung cancer, and you want your diagnosis to be correct so you can fight the disease as quickly and effectively as possible,” said Dr. Tan, “so seeing a lung cancer specialist before beginning treatment is highly recommended.”
These questions will help prepare you to talk with your physician about lung cancer screening.
- Do I have a history of smoking?
Smoking remains the main risk factor for lung cancer even though the disease can affect people who have never smoked, and it contributes to up to 90 percent of lung cancer deaths in America. Screening is recommended if you’ve smoked a pack a day for 30 years, two packs a day for 15 years, or three packs a day for 10 years. You should also be screened if you’ve been an active smoker or have quit smoking within the last 15 years.
- Am I 55 or older?
The average age for lung cancer diagnoses is around 70; most people who receive a diagnosis are 65 or older .That’s one reason why most lung cancer screening candidates are generally between the ages of 55 and 77.
- Do I have lung cancer symptoms?
If you have a nagging cough, chest pain, shortness of breath, hoarseness, wheezing, bloody phlegm, or chronic respiratory infections, you should see a doctor. If you meet the screening criteria for age and history of smoking, your physician may choose to skip the screening—which is typically performed before a disease displays any symptoms or problems— and move directly to the next phase of tests that help determine a final diagnosis.
- Have I been exposed to secondhand smoke or harmful chemicals?
This kind of exposure can be a risk factor for lung cancer. However, it’s usually not considered enough to recommend a screening. If you have concerns about environmental risk factors for lung cancer, speak with a physician specializing in the disease who can discuss your options.
- Am I in relatively good health?
Lung cancer screening is done with low-dose CT (LDCT) scans, which involve a lower amount of radiation than normal CT scans. If you have a health condition, speak with your physician to make sure the radiation won’t be a problem. If you have a pacemaker or metal implant, that may interfere with the ability to get a high-quality scan. And if your screening indicates a need for further scans or a biopsy, some lung issues or other health concerns may make it difficult to undergo these tests. You should talk with a physician experienced in treating lung cancer who can discuss the benefits and risks with you.
- Can I afford lung cancer screening?
The good news is that the answer in most cases is yes. Medicare and many types of health insurance plans consider lung cancer screening an essential service and offer coverage.
City of Hope Newport Beach administers a state-of-the-art LDCT lung cancer screening program for smokers and former smokers, as well as access to City of Hope’s comprehensive smoking cessation program. Learn more about our lung screening program here. To make an appointment to speak with a lung cancer physician, call City of Hope Newport Beach at 949-763-2204 or request an appointment online.