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Low-dose CT screen easy, inexpensive way to find lung cancer early

Smoking causes 80-90% of lung cancer deaths
3d rendered medically accurate illustration of lung cancer, Lung cancer diagnosis and Human lungs disease. Lung Cancer or Pneumonia, Anatomy, healthcare or medicine concept , Generate Ai

Lung cancer symptoms don’t usually show until the disease has advanced. But if caught early, the chance of surviving five years improves from 11% to 55%, according to the American Lung Association.

A lung cancer screening using a CT scan is:

  • Easy: The whole CT screening appointment can take less than 30 minutes.
  • Painless: You lie on a table that moves in and out of the scanner, which is shaped like a big, roomy doughnut.
  • Often inexpensive: Many insurance plans cover the scan without a copay if you are high risk or over age 55.
  • Worth it: Early detection significantly increases the chance of beating cancer.

If you think you could be at risk for lung cancer, don’t wait. Call (502) 629-LUNG (5864)

Causes and risk factors for lung cancer

Smoking is the best-known and longest-studied cause of lung cancer. It is also the cause of other kinds of cancer, such as breast cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, cigarette smoking causes 80% to 90% of lung cancer deaths in the United States. The more cigarettes you smoke, the higher your risk for developing lung cancer. Even if you aren’t a smoker, if you are frequently around smoking you are at higher risk for lung cancer from secondhand smoke. Adults who do not smoke but who are exposed to secondhand smoke have a 20% to 30% increased risk of developing lung cancer. Sometimes there is no known trigger for lung cancer.

Besides smoking and secondhand smoke, other causes of lung cancer include:

  • Radiation therapy: If you have had radiation to the chest for another type of cancer, it can increase your risk of developing lung cancer.
  • Exposure to radon gas: Radon is a naturally occurring gas. It comes from the breakdown of uranium in soil, rock and water. The gas becomes part of the air you breathe. Unsafe levels of radon can accumulate in any building, including homes.
  • Exposure to asbestos and other carcinogens: Exposure to asbestos and other substances known to cause cancer — such as arsenic, chromium and nickel — can increase your risk of developing lung cancer, especially if you’re a smoker.
  • Family history of lung cancer: If you have a parent, sibling or child with lung cancer, you may have an increased risk of the disease.

The American Cancer Society has a free lung cancer screening eligibility quiz.

Talk to your primary care provider about getting a low-dose CT lung cancer screening.

Benefits of low-dose CT screening for lung cancer

A review of lung cancer data in 2023 said LDCT screening resulted in a 20% reduction in lung cancer mortality compared with chest X-ray screening. LDCT screening found early-stage lung cancer cases more often than chest X-ray screening.

A low-dose lung CT scan is a type of X-ray that takes multiple pictures as you lie on a table that slides in and out of the machine. A computer combines the images into a complete picture of your lungs. Because it is “low dose,” it uses a lower amount of radiation than a traditional chest CT.

A low-dose CT scan is painless, takes just a few minutes and is able to detect even the smallest tumors. The whole appointment can take less than half an hour.

Paying for lung cancer screening

According to the American Lung Association, the initial low-dose CT scan can be covered without a copay if you are at high risk, between ages 50 and 80 and have private insurance, or are ages 50 to 70 and have Medicare. You may have a copay if you go to a facility that is not in your health plan’s network. When you make your appointment, confirm that the facility and the providers are in your health plan’s network to avoid extra costs.

Norton Cancer Institute is home to specialists offering some of the most advanced treatments and therapies. Patients who are screened and have a suspicious finding are paired with an oncology-certified thoracic services patient navigator. This is a nurse who can help ease stress and guide you through every phase of cancer care, from diagnosis through treatment and survivorship.

What is the screening process?

You will begin the process by talking with your primary care provider to ensure you qualify for a  screening. Your primary care provider’s office then will order and schedule the lung cancer screening. After your screening, a board-certified radiologist will review your scan. If an abnormality is found, your physician may recommend you see one of the lung specialists with the Norton Cancer Institute Comprehensive Lung Center.

How long will it take to get my results?

Your physician or the lung screening navigator will give you the results of your scan, usually within five days. If you have an abnormal screening, you will be notified by phone, and immediate arrangements will be made for a doctor specializing in lung cancer treatment to meet with you. If you have not received your results after 10 days, please call your physician.

Lung cancer screening questions to ask your doctor

Being ready with questions to ask your oncologist (cancer specialist) can help you feel back in control after hearing the news of a cancer diagnosis.

Understanding your disease and how it’s treated is important, so don’t be shy about asking straightforward questions about your oncologist’s subspecialty, experience and access to clinical trials. Treating lung cancer takes time and many appointments — and you may not be able to drive yourself all the time — so understanding how convenient your oncologist can make your treatment is important.

To get started, here are some questions to ask your oncologist. Feel free to take notes when you speak with your health care provider, and if there is anything you don’t understand — stop the conversation and ask for an explanation.

If you are a smoker, the most effective way to reduce your risk is to stop smoking. If you aren’t sure how to do that, talk to your doctor. You can ask:

  • Can you suggest ways to help me quit smoking?
  • What else can I do to lower my risk?

Other questions include:

  • Am I at risk ?
  • Do you recommend that I get screened? Why or why not?
  • Should I have an annual screening?
  • What kind of screening will I have? How do I prepare?
  • Does the screening have any risks or side effects?
  • How long will it take to get the results?
  • If results show that I may have cancer, will I need more tests to be sure?

Should I get a second opinion?

Yes. Your oncologist won’t be offended. The goal is to get you the best care available, and multiple viewpoints can only help.

Also ask if your oncology provider holds “tumor boards” or multidisciplinary consultations. These are built-in processes where every cancer patient’s case is reviewed, analyzed, debated and discussed by numerous specialists. Similar to a second opinion, the result is a treatment plan that benefits from collaboration among a team of physicians and other providers.

—By Sara Thompson, Norton Healthcare