The five-year survival rate for lung cancer is 56% if the disease is caught  at an early stage. Unfortunately, only 16% of all lung cancers are discovered this early.. Lung cancer screening may help increase the chances of early detection and better treatment outcomes.

What is early screening for lung cancer?

Early screening for lung cancer includes any type of regular testing to detect the presence of cancer. The goal is to find cancer in the earliest stage possible to improve the outcome.. Lung cancer in particular may cause no symptoms until it spreads and becomes harder to treat. As a result, doctors may encourage those at the highest risk for lung cancer to undergo early screening tests.

Who qualifies for a lung cancer screening?

Technically, anyone may qualify for lung cancer screening if their medical care provider believes there is a reason to perform the test. However, expert groups publish recommendations that identify those at high risk for the disease and encourage these individuals to undergo lung cancer screening. According to the U.S. Preventative Task Force (USPTF), you should consider lung cancer screening if all of the following apply to you:

  • You are aged 50 to 80
  • You currently smoke or quit smoking in the last 15 years
  • You have a 20 pack-year smoking history

The American College of Radiology (ACR) concurs with most points of these guidelines but states that people who quit smoking in the last 20 years should undergo regular screening tests.

How do you determine your pack-year smoking history?

The term pack-year refers to the number of packs of cigarettes you smoked every day multiplied by the number of years you smoked. For example, if you smoked 1 pack per day for 20 years, your pack-year history is 2 x 10, or 20. If you smoked half a pack per day for 10 years, your pack-year history is 0.5 x 10, or 5.

Who qualifies for lung cancer screenings under health insurance guidelines?

All private health insurance plans governed by the Affordable Care Act (ACA) must cover lung cancer screenings for individuals who meet the criteria established by the USPTF. Plans established prior to the implementation of the ACA are grandfathered in and may have other guidelines regarding coverage for lung cancer screening tests. Contact your health insurance provider to find out if your plan will pay for screenings.

Who qualifies for lung cancer screenings under Medicare guidelines?

Medicare Part B will usually pay for annual lung cancer screening tests if you:

  • Are age 50 to 77
  • Don’t presently have any signs or symptoms of lung cancer
  • Are a smoker or quit smoking in the last 15 years
  • Have a 20 pack-year smoking history
  • Get an order for testing from a doctor who participates in Medicare

If you’re covered by Medicare Advantage, your plan must typically cover at least what Medicare Part B does. However, the plan may choose to offer more lenient guidelines regarding lung cancer screening.

When should you start getting lung cancer screenings?

Expert guidelines recommend that you start getting lung cancer screenings at age 50 if you are at high risk because you currently smoke or quit smoking in the last 15 to 20 years and have a history of heavy smoking. The guidelines also advise that people at high risk get screened for lung cancer annually up to the age of 80.

What does lung cancer screening involve?

The only lung cancer screening test recommended by the USPSTF is low-dose computed tomography (LDCT). Other lung cancer screening tests include chest x-rays, sputum cytology and the Galleri test.

Low-dose computer tomography

Low-dose computed tomography or LDCT is a test that captures detailed images of the lungswith an x-ray machine linked to a computer. At the start of the test, you lie down on your back on top of a long table. The technologist administering the test goes into another room where they can talk to you and see you clearly.

When the test begins, you’ll need to lie still while the table moves through a long imaging machine. The technologist may tell you to hold your breath while they take the picture. You’re unlikely to feel any discomfort, but the machine may make loud noises. The entire test usually takes only a minute, and the whole appointment normally lasts about 30 minutes.

A radiologist will examine the images, looking for nodules and other abnormalities.

Chest x-ray

A chest x-ray is an imaging test that involves taking pictures of your chest with an x-ray machine. Normally, you stand upright with your chest against a metal plate and hold still while the machine takes pictures of your front. Then, you turn around and place your back against the plate so the machine can capture an image of the back of your chest. Normally, you need to stay still and hold your breath for a few seconds.

Most chest x-rays require only a few minutes to complete. After the test, a radiologist will review the images to look for any abnormalities.

What happens if a screening test discovers lung cancer?

An abnormal finding during a lung cancer screening doesn’t necessarily mean that you have lung cancer. In most cases, further testing is necessary to diagnose cancer and determine its type and stage. Some additional tests that may be performed include:

  • Biopsy: Removing a tissue sample from the lungs and lymph nodes. The sample is sent to a laboratory where a pathologist examines it for signs of cancer. Doctors may use an ultrasound machine imaging device, a video-assisted surgical system and other technology to assist with the biopsy. In other cases, a needle may be used to obtain the sample.
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan: Imaging test that uses an x-ray machine attached to a computer
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): Imaging test that produces pictures of the lungs using radio waves and magnets
  • Bone Scintigraphy (bone scan): Radiologic test to determine if lung cancer has spread to the bones
  • Positron emission tomography (PET): Test where radioactive sugar is injected into the body and a specialized camera captures images that show where the sugar went. Cancerous cells normally absorb more sugar and show up more brightly on the images.
  • Blood work: General blood work may be done to get a picture of your overall health and to check for the size, count and maturity of your white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets.

How Forward can help you assess your lung cancer risk

Our doctor-led Cancer Prevention program evaluates your individual cancer risk and provides personalized recommendations for cancer screening tests including lung cancer, as well as the other most common cancers: skin, breast, prostate and colorectal. Based on the information obtained through our in-depth examinations and analyses we create a personalized lifestyle change plan for you with the goal of reducing your overall cancer risk. Serving as your long-term doctor, we offer ongoing support and biometric monitoring to help you achieve your health goals and potentially lower the risk of developing cancer in the future. We provide our services independent of insurance to make preventative care more accessible and eliminate the worries of copays, deductibles and coinsurance.

No long waits. No surprise bills. No copays — ever.

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