Health Care

What’s a Lung Cancer Screening and When Do You Need One?

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There are a lot of important things to know about lung cancer, and one of the most important is that lung cancer screenings can save lives. The key to a positive outcome in lung cancer treatment is early detection and diagnosis. Read on to learn how a lung cancer screening can help your doctor catch cancer early if you’re high-risk.

Lung cancer is the number one cause of cancer-related deaths for American men and women because it often has no symptoms until it’s already at an advanced stage. But there is hope. Lung cancer screening aims to alter those numbers and detect the disease at an earlier stage when treatment is more effective.

What is a Lung Cancer Screening?

The only proven test for lung cancer screenings is low-dose computed tomography (LDCT). In LDCT, a specific type of X-ray machine scans your body and uses a low dose of radiation to create high-quality images of your lungs. Research has shown that among heavy smokers, LDCT can reduce the risk of dying from lung cancer.

However, because this type of screening can detect lung abnormalities that are not cancer and may prompt additional testing or procedures, annual lung cancer screening is typically recommended only for those who are at high risk for lung cancer.

Individuals aged 50 and older with a history of heavy smoking are considered high risk. Check to see if you’re eligible for lung cancer screening coverage as Medicare recently expanded coverage.

If your doctor recommends lung cancer screening, discuss the pros and cons for you, and learn what to expect before, during and after the screening.

To help you feel prepared and empowered, here’s a quick look at what the test entails.

What to Expect Before the Screening

Metal can affect the quality of an image on LDCT scans. Before your scan, you’ll be asked to remove metal objects such as jewelry, hairpins, eyeglasses and removable dental work.

What to Expect During the Screening

LDCT is a painless, noninvasive imaging test. In the test, an X-ray machine scans your body in a spiral path. This machine is linked to a computer, which processes the scanned information and creates a series of detailed images. The amount of radiation exposure is up to 90 percent less than with a conventional CT scan of the chest.

The machine used for LDCT looks like a large box with a short tunnel in the middle. You’ll lie on a table that slides in and out of this tunnel. A technologist will help you get into the right position on the table — usually flat on your back.

Once you’re positioned properly, the table quickly slides through the tunnel to find a starting point for the scan. Then the table slides through a second time as the scan is performed. During the scanning process, any motion — even breathing — could blur the image. You’ll need to hold your breath for five to 10 seconds and stay very still.

What to Expect After the Test

About one in four LDCT screenings finds abnormal areas in or near the lungs. Most turn out to be something other than cancer, such as scarring from a past infection. You may need follow-up testing to know for sure and for peace of mind.

If this is the case, you’ll be asked to come back for another LDCT scan several months later. By comparing the two scans, your doctor can see whether the abnormal area is growing. If it is, your doctor may recommend further evaluation. You might need to get another type of imaging study or a biopsy.

Breathe Easier With Comprehensive, Compassionate Care

Whatever your health journey holds, it’s important to find a care partner on your path to whole health. With a focus on prevention, our experts can guide you with recommendations on keeping your lungs healthy or determine if a lung cancer screening is right for you.

If you think you might be at risk for lung cancer, come to our experts for guidance and support. With leading-edge imaging technology, expert lung cancer specialists and our mission to heal you in body, mind and spirit, our whole-person care is second to none.

Visit us here to learn more about imaging services at AdventHealth.

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