Screening for Lung Cancer

Most lung cancers are first diagnosed based on symptoms. Symptoms of lung cancer are not very specific and generally reflect damage to the lungs’ ability to function normally. The most common symptoms are a worsening cough that will not go away, and chest discomfort. Other symptoms include shortness of breath, spitting up small amounts of blood, unexplained weight loss, back pain, loss of appetite, and a general fatigue.

Unlike mammography for breast cancer or colonoscopy for colon cancer, a widely accepted screening tool for early-stage lung cancer has not been available until recently. Regular chest X-rays are not reliable enough to find lung tumors in their earliest stages, when many doctors believe the tumors are at their smallest and most curable state.

Recent guidelines from the American Society of Clinical Oncologists suggests annual screening with low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) for smokers and former smokers at high risk for developing lung cancer. High risk factors include being between the age of 55 to 74, having smoked for 30 years or more, and either continuing to smoke or having quit within the past 15 years. At this time, yearly screening with LDCT is recommended for high-risk individuals after careful discussion with their physicians.