Screening for Lung Cancer - National Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention
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National Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention

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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 with low dose CT (computed tomography) scans in older persons who have smoked cigarettes for many years can help to find lung cancer at an earlier, more treatable stage. CT screening has been shown to reduce a person’s chance of dying from lung cancer. Annual screening for lung cancer is recommended for persons ages 50 to 80 who are current smokers or former smokers who have quit within the past 15 years and who have smoked cigarettes for many years (at least 20 pack-years: 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). Also, it is important that persons considering screening do not have medical conditions that result in poor health and limited expectancy. Finally, screening for lung cancer looks for lung cancer before a person has any symptoms of cancer. If a person has symptoms of lung cancer like long-lasting cough, coughing up blood, or unexpected weight loss, they should talk to their doctor and get tested right away. Screening is not for persons with symptoms.

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 from medical procedures.

What are the pros and cons to lung cancer screening?

Pros: Research shows lung cancer screening reduces the chance of dying from lung cancer in persons who are older and are heavy smokers or have been heavy smokers. It also reduces the chance of being diagnosed with an advanced lung cancer.

Cons: Lung cancer screening can lead 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. False alarms can sometimes lead to procedures, which rarely 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.

More Information

Here are some resources you can read to learn more about lung cancer screening and results of lung cancer screening.

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).

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