LUNG CANCER SCREENING
If You Are Not Going to Quit Smoking, Then Please Get a CT scan
As a lung specialist (Pulmonologist), I have seen the devastation wrought by lung cancer up close. It is a silent killer, and frequently, when I would diagnose lung cancer in one of my patients, it would be too late as the cancer had already spread to the point that cure is impossible.
In 2020, over 228,000 people were diagnosed with lung cancer. And even though lung cancer is not the most common cancer, it is by far the most deadly. Thus, if there was a way to find lung cancer earlier through screening, it could potentially save lives.
And so it is a pretty big deal that the United States Preventative Task Force (USPTF) has now recommended annual low-dose CT scan in anyone age 50–80 who currently smoke and has smoked at least one pack per day for at least 20 years. This recommendation also applies to those who have quit within the last 15 years.
Why is this important? Because if you can find a lung cancer early — when it is stage IA — the odds of cure are way higher, and the life-expectancy is much longer than if the lung cancer is diagnosed at a later stage. Currently, just over 20% of patients who get diagnosed with lung cancer are alive 5 years later, according to the NIH.
Ideally, everyone should quit smoking. It is the absolute best thing you can do for your lungs, your overall health and well-being, and your pocketbook (cigarettes are incredibly expensive). That feat, quitting smoking, is much easier said than done. I know that.
In fact, one of my patients told me, “Doc, I quit cocaine just like that.” But with cigarettes, he told me, it was so much harder. He had quit, and I was so excited when he did so. Then, after seeing cigarettes on display at a gas station, he bought a pack and started smoking again. He died of lung cancer at the age of 48. I was devastated.
According to my colleague Michael Hunter MD, “One model points to avoiding 12,000 deaths from lung cancer per year in the USA if all eligible individuals had a screening.” This is huge, and it makes screening all the more important for patients who smoke.
Like I said, the best thing to do is to quit smoking. But, if you cannot or are not willing to quit smoking, then at the very least get a low-dose CT scan every year to screen for lung cancer. It could mean the difference between life or death.