Should You Check In With Your Lungs?

By on October 3, 2022

Low-dose CT (LDCT) scans are conducted at The Outer Banks Hospital. The scan only takes a few minutes and is not painful.

Outer Banks Hospital

For individuals who have been smoking for a long time, it’s a good idea to check in with your lungs to make sure nothing abnormal, like lung cancer, has developed. Lung cancer has the highest mortality rate of all the cancers; however, it’s a fact that early detection is the key to successful outcomes and a longer life. For years, regular chest X-rays have been a screening test for people at higher risk for lung cancer, but they haven’t proven to reduce mortality rates and are not recommended for lung cancer screening.

However, over the past decade, a screening test known as a low-dose CT (LDCT) scan (or Lung-O-Gram, as we like to call them) has been studied, and the research demonstrates that, unlike chest X-rays, annual LDCT scans done on people at higher risk for lung cancer can save lives.

Historically, most lung cancers are discovered at stages 3 and 4. That’s why The Outer Banks Hospital (TOBH) has made early detection through annual screening a top priority for our community.

“We know that the majority of lung cancer patients are current or former smokers,” noted Charles Shelton, MD, TOBH radiation oncologist. “It’s a national crisis, and health systems should focus on increasing early detection with annual LDCT screening of this population.”

Shelton emphasizes the word “annual” because it’s not one and done. “Annual screening, like an annual mammogram, increases the odds for detecting abnormalities in the lungs when they develop. That gives the patient a huge advantage over this disease.”

If you’re a current or former smoker over the age of 50, you could meet the high-risk eligibility criteria for the LDCT scan. See below for information or ask your provider if you qualify.

Who Should Be Screened for Lung Cancer?

First, it’s important to note that “screening” means testing for a disease when there are no symptoms or history of that disease. Lung cancer usually does not cause symptoms until the disease is in a later stage.

That is why, if you are a former smoker and meet the criteria below, it is recommended that you have a LDCT scan on a yearly basis. LDCT scans require a referral order, so ask your provider if a screening makes sense for you. And remember, the best way to reduce your risk of lung cancer is to not smoke and to avoid secondhand smoke. Lung cancer screening is not a substitute for quitting smoking.

To qualify for a LDCT scan, individuals must meet all of the following criteria:

  1. Age 50 – 77 years
  2. Asymptomatic (no signs or symptoms of lung cancer)
  3. Tobacco smoking history of at least 20 pack-years (one pack-year means smoking one pack — 20 cigarettes — per day for one year)
  4. Current smoker or one who has quit smoking within the past 15 years
  5. Receive an order for lung cancer screening with LDCT.

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