Long-time smokers should get lung CT
Q: I used to smoke two packs a day but quit recently. Should I get a lung cancer screening?
A: Lung cancer causes about 30 percent of all cancer deaths in the United States. In Philadelphia, lung cancer is the second-leading cause of death, with 61.1 per 100,000 population, far higher than Pennsylvania's average of 50.9.
The only test for lung cancer used to be an X-ray, which generally catches lung cancer too late for care to succeed. Today, a low-dose CT scan can find cancer early, before symptoms appear, and when it's easier to treat.
Annual, low-dose CT screening is recommended for high-risk individuals, including those who smoked a pack of cigarettes a day for 30 years or an equivalent amount (i.e., two packs a day for 15 years) and who are between ages 55 and 80. But high-risk people shouldn't be scanned if they're not healthy enough to withstand care, or if they stopped more than 15 years ago. Smoking is the biggest risk factor, and the more and longer people smoke, the higher their risk.
Mercy Fitzgerald and Mercy Philadelphia Hospitals have launched a lung CT screening program for longtime smokers, enabling physicians to detect malignancies at a very early stage and improve survival. The service will cost $99, so if a person's insurance does not cover it, the price should not deter them. Current or former heavy smokers should start getting yearly scans. A prescription is needed for a lung CT screening, so talk to your doctor about whether screening is right for you. And the best way to avoid lung cancer is to stop smoking.
Oleg M. Teytelboym, M.D., is a cancer-imaging specialist at Mercy Philadelphia and Mercy Fitzgerald Hospitals.