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The Best Way to Catch Lung Cancer Early

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How to protect yourself from lung cancer, if you are a current or former smoker

Posted by Joseph Friedberg, MD, FACS

No one wants to be told that they have lung cancer, but If you are a current or former smoker, receiving the diagnosis at an early stage can be the difference between life and death. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related death around the world due in part to the fact that it often goes undiagnosed until the cancer is in advanced stages when treatment options are limited.

What can be done to detect lung cancer early when it’s most treatable?

One of the best ways to detect lung cancer early is with a low-dose CT scan. This screening test can identify cancer in the lungs long before a person experiences any symptoms. The US Preventive Services Task Force recommends an annual low-dose CT scan for patients who are:

  • Between the ages of 50 and 80 years old
  • Current smoker or have quit smoking within the past 15 years
  • Have a 20-pack-year smoking history
  • Do not have a health problem that limits life expectancy or the ability to have surgery if cancer is found

Your pack-year smoking history is found by multiplying how many packs of cigarettes you smoked per day by the number of years you smoked. For example, if you smoked one pack a day for 20 years, you would have a 20-pack-year smoking history. If you smoked two packs a day for 15 years, you would have a 30-pack-year smoking history.

Is there any other way to detect lung cancer besides a low-dose CT scan?

Currently, low-dose CT scans are the only effective screening tool for detecting lung cancer in its earliest stages. A regular chest x-ray may miss early-stage lung cancers, and sputum cytology, a test that checks for abnormal cells in sputum (phlegm), has also not proven to be effective in detecting early lung cancer.

Once you experience the symptoms of lung cancer, it is often too late to effectively treat the disease. Although you should see a doctor if you have any of the following symptoms, lung cancer often doesn’t produce symptoms until more advanced stages.

Symptoms of lung cancer may include:

  • Coughing that gets worse or doesn’t go away
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Wheezing
  • Coughing up blood
  • Experiencing lung infections that keep coming back
  • Constant fatigue
  • Weight loss with no known cause

What happens if you find out you have early-stage lung cancer?

There are a variety of treatment options for early-stage lung cancer. Surgery is often recommended if the tumor has not spread beyond the lungs, and chemotherapy or radiation may be employed before surgery to shrink the size of your tumor or after surgery for a number of reasons. Targeted therapy and immunotherapy may also be considered.

If you are a current or former smoker or are at high risk for developing lung cancer, contact your doctor for your low-dose CT scan so your cancer can be treated before it spreads, and you have a better chance at a good outcome.

To schedule your consultation with a Temple doctor, call 800-TEMPLE-MED (800-836-7536) or request an appointment online.

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