With a mortality rate that accounts for about one-fourth of all cancer deaths, lung cancer is the deadliest cancer in the U.S.1 Although medical professionals intentionally avoid using the term “curable” with this disease, it’s treatable if caught early.2
Advances in modern medical technology mean that unlike with some cancers, patients can be treated effectively with the right diagnostic practices. A low-dose CT lung cancer scan may appeal to many at-risk sufferers seeking a non-invasive, accurate, and cost-effective option.
Early Signs of Lung Cancer
Lung cancer is a general name for a variety of conditions characterized by the formation of malignant tumors in the lungs. Most cases fall into one of three categories: non-small cell lung cancer, small cell lung cancer, and lung carcinoid tumors.3
Different cancer cases have unique impacts and courses of development. Nonetheless, there are a few general signs that might indicate a patient needs extra attention. These symptoms may include:
- Persistent coughs that last more than a week or two.
- Changes in chronic coughs, such as increased frequency, unusually hoarse sounds, or the presence of blood or brownish phlegm.
- Chest pain that may be dull, periodic, or continuous.
- Pain that spreads to areas like the back, shoulders, or even bones.
- Breathing changes, such as becoming increasingly winded or experiencing abnormal fatigue.
- Weight loss in excess of 10 pounds for unexplained reasons.
- Headaches or migraines caused by cancers spreading or placing pressure on major veins,
- Wheezing and vocal raspiness that don’t go away.
- Persistent infections, such as pneumonia or bronchitis.4
Certain people are at a heightened risk of lung cancer. Your behavioral habits may make the warning signs more serious. For instance, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, notes that smoking cigarettes are the leading risk factor. In fact, between 80 and 90 percent of those who die from lung cancer previously smoked.5
Exposure to second-hand smoke, radon, and workplace hazards, such as diesel exhaust and asbestos, can also increase your chances of developing tumors, along with having had lung cancer previously or having a family history of the disease.
What Is a Low-dose CT Lung Cancer Scan?
A computed tomography, or CT, scan is a type of diagnostic procedure that creates high-resolution images of a patients’ body using X-rays. By feeding X-ray data from different angles into advanced computer software, it’s possible to create a detailed 3D model of a target area, such as the insides of your lungs.
How can CT scanning help diagnose lung cancer? One 2011 study in the New England Journal of Medicine looked at more than 53,000 people who smoked heavily. The researchers found that individuals who got low-dose CT scans had 20 percent lower chances of dying compared to patients who only got X-rays.6
Other positive aspects of low-dose CT scanning include the fact that it…
- Can detect smaller abnormalities than a typical 2D X-ray can find, which makes it easier to analyze cancers before they spread.7
- Usually takes about a minute to complete.
- Doesn’t require patients to ingest dyes, take special medications, receive injections, or undergo other forms of preparation.
- Is a highly accurate technique that doesn’t need any invasive procedures.
- Benefits from continuous technology advances and rigorous regulatory guidelines that minimize the amount of radiation patients are exposed to.
To complete this procedure, the patient merely has to lie down on their back while the ring-shaped scanning machine passes over them. Although they usually have to hold their breath momentarily, the device is open at both ends, so patients don’t need to worry about being stuck in an enclosed space. They also get to feel confident about knowing they’re being watched by a nearby technician who can hear and communicate with them.
Low-dose CT scanning for lung cancer is usually only recommended for individuals between the ages of 55 and 80.8 If you don’t smoke, quit smoking more than 15 years ago, or aren’t exposed to other risk factors, then it may not benefit you.
How Much Does a Low-dose CT Scan Cost?
The cost of low-dose CT scanning varies. While many patients can expect to be billed a few hundred dollars at a minimum, the good news is that several insurers cover the procedure entirely without charging a deductible. On the other hand, individual providers and policies have different pricing schemes. For instance, some government employee health programs only offer lung cancer screenings to individuals deemed at an elevated risk.9
When considering whether a low-dose CT scan is worth the price, remember that lung cancer treatment is all about catching tumors as early as possible. The costs of treating cancer rise as the disease progresses and metastasizes or spreads. Paying for accurate diagnostic treatment now might save you economic hardship and suffering later.
Low-dose CT scanning isn’t for everyone, but it may play a crucial role in improving the lives and outlooks of those at a higher risk of developing lung cancer. As a less-invasive, quick diagnostic alternative grounded in advanced imaging science, it could help patients get informed and take action before their cancers become untreatable.
Want to know whether you’re a good candidate for a low-dose CT screening? Get in touch with your primary care provider or visit the American Lung Association for more information.