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  • Dr. Pat McShane

Smoker? Exsmoker? New Screening Guidelines

Lung cancer is the second most common cancer in the US, and the most common cause of cancer death. Early detection makes a difference in treatment course and survival. A low dose computed tomography scan (LDCT) can detect lung lesions at a stage that they can be treated, usually surgically, in otherwise healthy women.

The screening guidelines have recently been updated in the US; Canada, Australia and the UK have made similar changes in the recommendations and availability of screening to reflect the finding that early screening makes a difference.

If you are 50 to 80 years old, currently smoking, or have a history of 20 pack years of smoking, LDCT is recommended. A pack year is a year of smoking a pack a day; if you smoke(d) 2 packs per day, you can accumulate 20 pack years in ten years time.

The down side of the screening is a small dose of radiation, thought to have little to no impact on health. Sometimes there is a finding that warrants follow up that is not ultimately cancerous (“false positive”), causing anxiety short term and possible medical consequences long term. Rarely a CT scan will miss a cancer that is actually present (“false negative”).

If you have lung symptoms such as persistent cough, shortness of breath, chest pain, coughing up blood or other worrisome symptoms, please tell your doctor and get appropriate screening.

There are many excellent resources for quitting, if you haven't already. Best of luck!

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