How Often Should Ex-Smokers Get Lung Cancer Screenings?

A low-dose CT scan of the chest is a good way to detect multiple diseases and disorders, including chronic respiratory diseases and lung cancer.  Early detection of these diseases and disorders is essential to the successful fight against them.  The earlier they are detected, the better chance a patient has at survival.

This brings up a question, though.  If preventative screening is key to catching these diseases early, how often should one get tested?  Let’s take a look at today at one case in particular: a 55-year old ex-smoker who recently stopped smoking.

Our ex-smoker is 55 years old, and has had a history of smoking.  The patient has since stopped. The patient shows lung cancer symptoms now but is worried about an increased chance of developing lung cancer or some other respiratory condition in the future.

Where Public Health Organizations Agree

In August of 2011, the results of the National Lung Screening Trial (NLST) found that screening with low-dose spiral computed tomography (LDCT) scans compared to chest X-ray reduced lung cancer deaths among older heavy smokers by 20%, according to the American Lung Association.

As of December 2013, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force began recommending “annual screening for lung cancer with low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) in adults aged 55 to 80 years who have a 30 pack-year smoking history and currently smoke or have quit within the past 15 years. Screening should be discontinued once a person has not smoked for 15 years or develops a health problem that substantially limits life expectancy or the ability or willingness to have curative lung surgery.” Further, the USPSTF “concludes with moderate certainty that annual screening for lung cancer with LDCT is of moderate net benefit in asymptomatic persons who are at high risk for lung cancer based on age, total cumulative exposure to tobacco smoke, and years since quitting smoking.”

The American Lung Association is on the same page: Our patient should get tested if they are a current or former smoker aged 55 to 74 years old, has had a history of smoking for at least 30 packs per year and has no history of lung cancer.

Now, if our patient gets tested and the results come back with no signs of lung cancer, are they off the hook for future testing?

No. The patient should still be tested annually.

The goal here is prevention, and the best way to do this is through screening, according to the American Cancer Society. Our patient is likely to develop lung cancer, so preventative screening is the best way to keep them healthy and perhaps save a life.

If you’re looking for preventative screening services (such as a CT scan), come to Doctors Imaging. We’re radiologists concerned about quality patient care. Scheduling is easy, results are available online, our rates are below hospitals, and we accept every major insurance.