Early in the 20th century lung cancer was described as one of the rarest forms of cancer, but what could not be predicted in the early 1900’s was the impact cigarette smoking would have in the United States. Since 1986 lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death for both men and women. The dramatic increase in lung cancer caused death, estimated to reach over 150,000 deaths in 2018, can be directly attributed to the manufacture, sale and consumption of the modern cigarette.
For people who smoke, stopping smoking and staying stopped is the single best thing you can do to extend your life and to reduce your risk for many health problems, including lung cancer. If you have a significant smoking history, another important step you can take is to talk with your health care provider about receiving a Low Dose Computed Tomography (LDCT) screening x-ray for lung cancer.
Previously lung cancer was usually diagnosed only after it was advanced enough to cause symptoms, like chronic coughing, coughing up blood, chest pain or weight loss. However, in the past 5-10 years research studies have shown that annual LDCT screens for people at risk can save lives by identifying lung cancer before symptoms arise and early enough for more effective treatment. Those who can benefit from screening are people between the ages of 55 and 80, have smoked a pack per day for 30 years or the equivalent (smoking one package per day for 1 year would be “1 pack-year”, so smoking 1 pack per day on average for 30 years or 2 packs per day for 15 years would both be equal to “30 pack-years”), and are currently smoking or quit within the past 15 years.
Annual lung cancer LDCT screening is now covered by most major health plans including Medicare. If you are at risk, we recommend that you talk with your health care provider to decide if it is right for you. And while you are thinking about the decision to have LDCT lung cancer screening, give some thought to the benefits of quitting cigarette smoking. That will be the most important decision you make for your health.