Yet compared to those more common exams, lung cancer screening has the greatest chance of saving a life.
“Only 340 screenings among the at-risk population need to be performed to save a life from lung cancer,” says Justin Karush, DO, a thoracic surgeon at Rush.
One reason are the current screening criteria:
- You're between age 50 and 80
- You're a current smoker or have quit within the last 15 years (If you're a current smoker, we can help you quit)
- You have a "20 pack-year" history of smoking, calculated by multiplying the number of packs smoked per day times the number of years you've smoked. For example: One pack a day for 20 years or two packs a day for 10 years
- You have new signs or symptoms of lung cancer, such as a new cough that won’t go away or recent unexplained weight loss
Early detection is key
If you’re not sure if you meet the criteria, Karush recommends talking to your doctor about your smoking history and the benefits and risks of lung cancer screening.
“It’s a difficult conversation to have, but an important one, particularly with smokers and former smokers,” Karush says. “Though there is a stigma associated with lung cancer because of the strong association with smoking, it is essential to get screened and try to catch lung cancer early when there is still a chance of cure.”
Low-dose computed tomography (also called a low-dose CT scan) is recommended for a specific, at-risk population. It’s simple, painless and potentially lifesaving, says Sujay Bangarulingam, MD, a pulmonologist at Rush Copley Medical Center.
“Unfortunately, we are diagnosing lung cancer too often at later stages when it is inoperable,” he says. “If we can get people screened and treated earlier, we can save more lives.”
Yet many people who develop lung cancer don't fit the at-risk profile, like those who have never smoked. As many as 20% of U.S. patients who die from lung cancer have never smoked or used any form of tobacco, according to the American Cancer Society.
Besides those who have a history of smoking, people may be at risk to lung cancer due to the following factors:
- Occupational exposures (asbestos, coal smoke, soot, diesel fumes, arsenic or silica)
- Radon exposure
- Family history of lung cancer in first-degree relatives
- History of COPD or pulmonary fibrosis
Innovative techniques for lung cancer
When a screening detects lung cancer, thoracic surgeons usually can use minimally invasive, surgical techniques to remove the cancerous tumor.
By using high-definition imaging technology and precision instruments, thoracic surgeons work through tiny incisions, resulting in less blood loss, postoperative pain and scarring, an earlier discharge and a faster recovery time.
At Rush, we specialize in the following minimally invasive, surgical techniques for lung cancer care:
- Lobectomy — the most common surgery for lung cancer, which involves the surgical removal of a portion of the lung.
- Robotic surgery — a minimally invasive technique that surgeons use for a wide range of conditions and procedures, such as lung cancer.
- Video-assisted thorascopic surgery (VATS) — a minimally invasive procedure that can reduce pain and recovery times compared to open chest surgery.
Other techniques for lung cancer care can include the following:
- Radiation therapy
- Targeted therapy
Hope for lung cancer care
Advances in lung cancer screening and treatment give Karush hope for the future of lung cancer care but he is eager to raise more awareness about the importance of screening.
“I have many patients who never heard of lung cancer screening — even patients who have been lifelong smokers,” Karush says. “For many of them, if they had not gone through screening, it would have been too late. If you smoke or meet the criteria, it’s crucial that you talk to your doctor about lung cancer screening — it can save your life.”
For additional questions regarding lung cancer screening, help obtaining an order or to schedule your lung screening, please call (312) 947-5864 or fill out our appointment request form.