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Cancer answers: Is a CT scan for me?

Written by Community Health Network on 2/19/2014 2:00:00 PM

The new guidelines for lung cancer screenings encourage those at risk to get a low-dose CT scan. Who's at risk and why do they need a low-dose CT scan? We asked diagnostic radiologist, Kenyon Kopecky, M.D., FACR, at Irvington Radiology, to weigh in.

Chest x-ray vs lung CT scan

Who is really at risk for lung cancer?
Smokers are at the highest level of risk. The United States Preventive Services Task Force recommends annual screening for lung cancer for adults ages 55 to 80 years who have a 30 pack-year smoking history (one pack per day for 30 years or two packs per day for 15 years) and currently smoke, OR adults in the same age range who have quit within the past 15 years.

For a smoker who is otherwise healthy, scheduling a lung screening may not seem urgent or even necessary. In fact, the idea of screening individuals at “high risk” has been debated for decades. But, simply put, smoking is the biggest risk factor in all cancer types. Smoking causes 90 percent of all lung cancer cases.

How are physicians striving to catch lung cancer early?
Catching lung cancer early is challenging because many patients may not have any noticeable symptoms. Almost 40 percent of adults are diagnosed with advanced lung cancer because it is not caught early enough. While lung cancer starts in the lungs, this cancer type can spread to other parts of the body, including the bones, liver, and brain. The goal is to find lung cancer when it is in a treatable stage. Utilizing the low-dose CT scan helps physicians do that by improving early detection rates.

What is a low-dose CT scan?
It is a low-dose computed tomography scan. A high-speed CT scanner is used to capture high-resolution images of the lungs with limited ionizing radiation. A radiation oncologist will then review the images of the lung for any abnormalities. The examination is simple, safe and painless (no needles) and there are no diet restrictions. The scan itself takes less than one minute.

Are low-dose CT scans dangerous?
The National Lung Screening Trial (NEJM 2011) studied people aged 55 years to 74 years who had smoked at least one pack of cigarettes per day for 30 years or more. Heavy smokers who had quit smoking within the past 15 years were also studied. The trial used chest X-rays and low-dose CT scans to check for signs of lung cancer. continue reading ...

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