A screening test is usually done as a preventative measure to find a potential health problem or illness in a person who does not yet have any signs or symptoms. There is a screening test for lung cancer, but it is only considered necessary for people at risk of lung cancer.
A screening test is usually done as a preventative measure to find a potential health problem or illness in a person who does not yet have any signs or symptoms. The goal of screening is to detect disease at an early stage, reduce the risk of disease, or find a condition early enough to treat it completely.
There is a lung cancer screening test. However, not everyone can opt for this. Your doctor may recommend a screening test if they think you are at high risk of developing cancer so that they can find your cancer in time.
Studies show that screening for lung cancer reduces the chances of dying from lung cancer.
What is the cancer screening test and when should it be done?
A low dose computed tomography (CT) or LDCT is a type of CT scan that uses low dose x-rays. It is the only screening test recommended by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for lung cancer.
You lie down on a table of a CT machine, and the table goes through the center of a large CT machine. The CT machine takes detailed x-rays of your chest.
Compared to a conventional scanner, LDCT for lung cancer uses about five times less radiation. While a conventional scanner uses at least 100 X-rays, an LDCT only uses 15 X-rays.
The US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends getting tested with a low-dose CT scan if you meet the following specified criteria:
- You must be between 50 and 80 years old.
- You must be asymptomatic, which means that you must not have any of the signs and symptoms of lung cancer mentioned above.
- You should
Medicare and other insurance companies typically cover this screening test. Read your insurance policy carefully to find out if it covers this and, if so, what the conditions are.
What happens after the lung cancer screening test?
If your low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) scan finds an abnormality in your lung, which is more likely to be lung cancer, your doctor will likely refer you to a team of experts. These experts will explain the ratio and how many follow-ups you might need after the initial screening.
Experts will also ask you to undergo additional tests and procedures, such as a CT scan and biopsy, to confirm the diagnosis. A biopsy is surgery to remove a small sample of lung tissue.
What are the possible risks of a lung cancer screening test?
Whether or not to get tested for lung cancer depends a lot on the benefits of the test versus the risks. Possible risks include
- False positive result: You may not have cancer, but the low dose computed tomography (LDCT) test is positive for lung cancer. This is called a false positive result. This may cause you to take unnecessary cancer drugs and have unnecessary surgeries.
- Overdiagnosis: Overdiagnosis means finding and treating non-aggressive cancer that otherwise wouldn’t have caused problems. This can lead to treatments that would otherwise have been unnecessary.
- Radiation: Although LDCT exposes you to a small amount of radiation, very little is known about its potential harms. Repeated LDCT tests can themselves cause cancer in otherwise healthy people.
Considering the above risks, your doctor will recommend a screening test for lung cancer based on your age, smoking history, and fitness or willingness to have the surgery. Therefore, talk to your doctor first if you are considering having the test.
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Medical examination on 07/21/2021
Medscape: “Scaling Up Lung Cancer Screening: New Guidelines.” https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/949805
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Who should be screened for lung cancer? https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/lung/basic_info/screening.htm
Swedish Health Services: “Low-dose CT for lung cancer screening”. https://www.swedish.org/services/thoracic-surgery/our-services/lung-cancer-screening-program/low-dose-ct-scan-for-lung-cancer-screening