Does Your History of Smoking Have You Worried about Lung Cancer?

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If you are a current or former smoker, chances are you’ve thought about the possibility of getting lung cancer. You may be experiencing some of the symptoms of the disease. Or perhaps you know smoking is the main cause of lung cancer, putting you at increased risk. For this group of people, an online risk assessment and discussion with your doctor can help you determine if low-dose CT lung cancer screening may be right for you.

Lung cancer is the second most common cancer in both men and women. However, it is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths. While prevention is the most effective strategy for reducing the burden of lung cancer in the long term, research shows that for a specific population, lung cancer screening significantly reduces the risk of dying from the disease. This is great news!

I Don’t Have Lung Cancer Symptoms, Why Get Screened?

If you are a smoker—past or present—consider four things:

  • Most lung cancers do not have symptoms until they are advanced and harder to effectively treat.
  • 85-90% of lung cancer deaths are thought to result from smoking.
  • The longer you smoke and the more packs per day, the greater your risk.
  • Early detection of lung cancer offers the best chance for a cure.

Who is a Candidate for Low-Dose CT Lung Cancer Screening?

Low-dose CT screening is the only recommended tool to detect lung cancer in its earliest stage—before you notice any symptoms. Based on guidelines from the National Lung Screening Trial, Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health offers a lung cancer screening program for people 55 to 77 years of age who:

  • Have a "30-pack-year" history of smoking. A pack year is the number of packs of cigarettes smoked daily, multiplied by the number of years smoking. For example, one pack a day for 30 years, or 2 packs a day for 15.
  • Meet the above criteria and currently smoke or have quit within the last 15 years. A high percentage of lung cancers still occur in former smokers.
  • Have no symptoms or history of lung cancer.

Screening to detect lung cancer early can potentially increase the overall cure rate and allow more limited surgical resection to achieve a cure.

To find out if you qualify for low-dose lung cancer CT screening, take our quick online lung cancer risk assessment. Then share these results with your primary care physician. To get the CT screening, you must be referred by your doctor.

How Does the Lung Cancer Screening Process Work?

After your primary care provider places a referral, a lung cancer screening coordinator will reach out to schedule your study. The low-dose CT scan is a non-contrast (without injecting substances) study using a multi-detector CT scanner. It takes images of your chest while you hold your breath for about 25 seconds. You will receive follow-up recommendations based on the findings.

Screening is best done in a setting like Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health, where a multidisciplinary team coordinates care. Having a certified and qualified primary care physician, radiologist, and pulmonologist involved in the screening process helps ensure your screening is properly performed, results are properly interpreted, and appropriate next steps are taken.

Symptoms of Lung Cancer

If you are not a candidate for low-dose CT lung cancer screening, there are still some important actions you can take. First and foremost, if you smoke, quit. There are many resources available to help you with what can be a challenging journey.

As already discussed, most lung cancers do not have symptoms until they are advanced. However, some people do experience early symptoms. If diagnosed at an earlier stage, lung cancer treatment can be more effective.

While it’s more likely the following symptoms are caused by something other than lung cancer, the American Cancer Society says be sure to talk to your doctor if you notice any of these common lung cancer symptoms:

  • A cough that does not go away or gets worse
  • Coughing up blood or rust-colored sputum (spit or phlegm)
  • Chest pain that is often worse with deep breathing, coughing, or laughing
  • Hoarseness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feeling tired or weak
  • Infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia that don’t go away or keep coming back
  • New onset of wheezing

Online Lung Cancer Risk Assessment

A final plea for people who do meet the criteria for CT lung cancer screening. Early detection has proven to reduce the risk of lung cancer death by up to 20 percent—or one in five people who have been diagnosed. Take our online assessment today and share with friends and family who may be eligible.

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Michael J. Walker, MD

Michael J. Walker, MD, is a family medicine physician with Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health LG Health Physicians Family Medicine Willow Street. He is a graduate of the Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University and completed his residency at the McGaw Medical College of Northwestern University. Dr. Walker is passionate about prevention and early detection of disease.

Call: 717-464-9173

About LG Health Hub

The LG Health Hub features breaking medical news and straightforward advice to help individuals of all ages make healthy choices and reach their wellness goals. The blog puts articles by trusted Lancaster General Health clinical experts, good 'n healthy recipes, videos, patient stories, and health risk assessments at your fingertips.


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