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Q&A: Your questions answered about lung cancer screening

Twitter chat with Dr. Alraiyes
Dr. Abdul Hamid Alraiyes, Director of Interventional Pulmonology and Critical Care Medicine at our Chicago hospital, answers your questions about lung cancer screening.

Lung cancer is the second-most common type of cancer diagnosed each year in the United States and, by far, the leading cause of cancer deaths in America. An estimated 228,000 Americans will be diagnosed with lung cancer this year, and more than 142,000 are expected to die from the disease, according to the National Cancer Institute.

While non-smokers can develop lung cancer, tobacco smoking is the leading cause of the disease. Other risk factors include exposure to pollutants, certain chemicals, radon or asbestos. You may also be at a higher risk if you have a family history of the disease. If you are or have been a smoker, or have other risk factors for lung cancer, you may consider getting screened for the disease. In a recent chat on Twitter at #AskCTCA, Abdul Hamid Alraiyes, MD (@ahalraiyes), Director of Interventional Pulmonology and Critical Care Medicine at our hospital in Chicago, answered your questions about lung cancer screening.

Question: Who should be screened for lung cancer?

Answer: Current smokers, or former smokers who have quit smoking within the last 15 years, should be screened for lung cancer if they are between the ages of 50 and 80.

Q: What tests are used for lung cancer screening?

A: A low-dose CT scan of the chest is generally recommended to screen for signs of lung cancer.

Learn more about diagnostic evaluations for lung cancer

Q: Are there any risks to getting screened?

A: Any cancer screening test carries a risk from radiation exposure, but the risk is typically very low and negated by the benefit someone with a smoking history would receive from taking the test, especially if it detects signs of cancer.

Q: My lung cancer screening found cancer. What now?

A: The goal of screening tests is to identify cancer at its earliest stage. If the CT scan showed evidence of a lesion on the lung, the next step would be to get a tissue sample. It’s important to remember that not every lesion is cancerous, so lesions are diagnosed as cancer only if a tissue sampling confirms the suspicion.

Learn more about lung cancer treatment options

Q: How do I prepare for a lung cancer screening?

A: Before the screening itself, you would schedule an office visit for a quick physical evaluation to rule out other symptoms that may give a false positive result on a chest CT scan.

Q: If screening is recommended for me, how often do I need to get it?

A: A radiologist will provide the results to the physician who ordered the test and make recommendations as soon as possible after the initial screening. Based on those results, your physician would call you with follow-up recommendations.

Q: What can I do to lower my risk of lung cancer?

A: The No. 1 risk factor for lung cancer is cigarette smoking. Quitting smoking as soon as possible will lower your general risk of the disease.   But if you’ve smoked a pack or more a day for many years and you’re between the ages of 50 and 80, you should also schedule a screening to determine whether you have lung cancer and, if you do, to catch it as early as possible.

Get answers to common questions about lung cancer