National Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention
Screening for Lung Cancer
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the United States.
Who Should Be Screened for Lung Cancer?
Screening for lung cancer is done to look for lung cancer before a person has symptoms of cancer (long-lasting cough, coughing up blood, unexpected weight loss, and so on). Screening with low dose CT (computed tomography) scans in older persons who have smoked cigarettes for many years can help to find lung cancer and has been shown to lead to a small reduction in the possibility of dying from lung cancer.
Screening for lung cancer is recommended for persons ages 50 to 80 who have smoked one pack per day for 20 years (or a comparable amount, such as ½ pack per day for 40 years or 2 packs a day for 10 years) and are still smoking or have quit less than 15 years ago and who don’t have medical conditions that may limit expected life to less than 5 years.
REMEMBER: The best way to prevent lung cancer is to stop smoking. If you are still smoking, talk with your VA health care team and call 1-855-QUIT VET to get help with quitting. We are here to help you!
Frequently Asked Questions
I am a Veteran and get my care at the VA. Can I get lung cancer screening?
If you would like to find out if lung cancer screening is recommended for you, talk with your VA health care team.
Why not screen everyone?
Screening people who are not at high risk for lung cancer or who are very ill may cause more harm than good. False alarms can lead to more testing and risk of harm.
What are the pros and cons to lung cancer screening?
Pros: Research shows lung cancer screening leads to a small reduction in the possibility of dying from lung cancer in persons who are older and are heavy smokers or have been heavy smokers.
Cons: Lung cancer screening most often leads to false alarms (the test finds something but it is not cancer). These false alarms lead to extra tests, which require extra appointments and trips to the medical center and may cause worry and concern. Rarely, they may result in complications such as bleeding or infections.
It is important that you weigh these pros and cons before you decide on screening. Every person is different; some people will choose to be screened with this information, but not everyone will. You should think about how you feel about the pros and cons and talk to your provider before deciding.
Here are some resources you can read to learn more about lung cancer screening and results of lung cancer screening.
- Screening for Lung Cancer
- My Lung Cancer Screening Did Not Show Lung Cancer: Now What?
- Small Lung Nodules: What You Need to Know
If you want to be screened for lung cancer, talk to your health care provider, no matter where you get your health care.
Regardless of your decision about screening, avoiding cigarettes is the most important thing you can do to lower your chance of dying from a variety of diseases, not just lung cancer. Quitting smoking helps to lower your chance of having emphysema and heart and vascular diseases.
If you are still smoking and would like help to quit, talk with your VA health care team and call 1-855-QUIT VET (1-855-784-8838).