By Tamarind Keating, ARNP – Summit Medical Group Oregon Oncology

According to the American Cancer Society, lung cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosis each year among Oregonians and the leading cause of cancer death in our state. When caught early, lung cancer can be treated with surgery or radiation with a good chance of it being cured.

Unfortunately, more than half of lung cancer diagnoses are made after the cancer has already metastasized or spread throughout the body. Metastatic lung cancer can be treated, but not cured. The percentage of patients who are still alive five years after being diagnosed with lung cancer early is 59 percent, compared to only six percent of patients still alive five years after being diagnosed with metastatic lung cancer.

Who should get screened?

Annual lung cancer screening is recommended for people who are 55-80 years old, have a heavy smoking history, and currently smoke or quit smoking within the past 15 years. The recommended screening test for lung cancer is a computer tomography (CT) scan. The test uses a low-dose CT scan to take pictures of the lungs. CT lung screening is a noninvasive, painless procedure. It does not require contrast dye or intravenous (IV) line placement and only takes about 10 minutes to complete. Suspicious findings may be followed up by more imaging and, if necessary, a biopsy to confirm the diagnosis.

Risks of Screening

While the benefit of lung cancer screening is to detect cancer early and improve the chance of a cure, there are risks as well. The test may lead to worry and more medical tests when there might actually be no cancer. It may detect a lung cancer that would never have caused a problem if left alone. Radiation from frequent CT scans can also cause a small risk of developing a new cancer.

Be sure to talk to your primary care provider about whether or not you should have lung cancer screening.

But know that the best way to avoid developing lung cancer is not to smoke or avoid secondhand smoke.

If you or someone you know needs help with smoking cessation, the Oregon Tobacco Quit Line provides tips, information and one-on-one coaching. They can be reached 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-800-QUIT-NOW.