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Lung Cancer Screenings

by | May 15, 2023 | Lung Health

The third most common type of non-skin cancer in the United States, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among men and women. Lung cancer screenings are essential to early detection and treatment for people at high risk, significantly increasing survival rates.

What is Screening?

Screening is looking for a disease before a person has any symptoms. Lung cancer screenings can help find cancer at an early stage, thereby making it easier to treat. By the time symptoms appear, cancer may have begun to spread.

Types of Screening

The National Cancer Institute describes three screening tests which have been studied to see if they decrease the risk of dying from lung cancer.

Low-dose Computed Tomography (LDCT)

The most common type of lung cancer screening, this procedure uses low-dose radiation to make detailed pictures of areas inside the body. Using an x-ray machine that scans the body in a spiral path, LDCT is also called spiral scan or helical scan.

Chest X-ray

An x-ray is an energy beam that can go through the body and onto film, making a picture of the organs and bones inside the chest.

Sputum Cytology

Sputum cytology is a procedure in which a sample of sputum (mucus that is coughed up from the lungs) is viewed under a microscope to check for cancer cells.

Who Should Get Screened?

Lung cancer screening is usually recommended for people at high risk of developing lung cancer due to their age, smoking history, or exposure to certain substances like asbestos. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends yearly lung cancer screening with LDCT for people who meet the following criteria.

  • Have a 20 pack-year or more smoking history
  • Smoke now or have quit within the past 15 years
  • Are between 50 and 80 years old

A pack-year is smoking an average of one pack of cigarettes per day for one year. The Task Force recommends yearly lung cancer screening to stop when individuals have met any of the following criteria.

  • Reach 81 years of age
  • Have not smoked in 15 or more years
  • Develop a health problem that makes them unwilling or unable to have surgery if lung cancer is detected


Lung cancer screenings are not recommended for everyone and include risks to the individual. The procedure can present a false-positive result, leading to follow-up tests and surgeries that are not needed. A lung cancer screening test can find cases of cancer that may never have caused a problem for the patient. This event is called overdiagnosis which can lead to unnecessary treatment. Radiation from repeated LDCT tests can cause cancer in otherwise healthy people.

In addition to annual lung cancer screenings, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of developing lung cancer.

  • Quitting smoking
  • Avoiding secondhand smoke
  • Minimizing your exposure to other cancer-causing substances like asbestos and radon

Lung cancer screenings are essential tools for early detection and treatment of lung cancer. If you are a smoker or have a history of smoking, it is important to discuss your lung cancer screening options with your doctor. Early detection is crucial to improving your chances of survival. The Comprehensive Sleep and Breathing Center staff can provide you more information to help you determine a course of action.