Lung Cancer: Saved By The Scan

08/01/2017 10:12 am ET Updated Aug 08, 2017

Fifteen years ago, the trajectory of lung cancer—the No. 1 cancer killer of both women and men—changed forever. The year 2002 marked the launch of the National Lung Cancer Screening Trial, a study of over 53,000 current or former heavy smokers ages 55 to 74. It was the largest lung cancer screening study to date. Participants were randomly assigned to receive three annual screens with either low-dose CT or standard chest X-ray. Nine years after this study began, the groundbreaking results were published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The study found that participants who received low-dose CT scans had a 20 percent lower risk of dying from lung cancer than participants who received standard chest X-rays. This study became the foundation for lung cancer screening guidelines and opened the door to screening and early detection of the disease for the estimated 9 million Americans who are considered at high risk for lung cancer.

The American Lung Association’s LUNG FORCE initiative is committed to defeating lung cancer and saving lives. We want to help those at high risk for lung cancer take the first step in talking with their doctor about lung cancer screening. When lung cancer is diagnosed at an early stage it is more likely to be curable. That’s why we have launched the “Saved By The Scan” campaign with the Ad Council, to help raise awareness about lung cancer screening and encourage high-risk individuals to learn more and talk to their doctor.

“Saved By The Scan” focuses on empowering former smokers (who make up about half of the high-risk population) to find out if lung cancer screening is right for them. While quitting smoking and talking to their doctor about lung cancer screening may be more at the forefront of the minds of current smokers and their physicians, former smokers are often not counseled on lung cancer screening. Some primary care physicians may not even know their patient is a former smoker, as most health records only ask about current smoking status. This presents a major gap in awareness about lung cancer screening. Smoking is a serious addiction, and the “Saved By The Scan” campaign celebrates former smokers’ determination and success in quitting smoking and highlights that they may also be eligible for screening.

Lung cancer screening can be a lifesaver, but it’s not recommended for everyone. Your age, the amount you smoke or smoked and when you quit all impact whether or not you are eligible for lung cancer screening. As part of “Saved By The Scan,” we’ve developed a simple lung cancer screening eligibility quiz you can take to help determine if screening is right for you.

If your quiz result shows that you are at high risk, talk with your doctor about a low-dose CT scan to screen for lung cancer. Be sure to discuss your complete health history and ask for a clear explanation about the possible benefits and risks of screening. If the quiz finds you are not at high risk, screening is not recommended at this time. We also have proven tools to help you quit smoking and information on how to protect yourself from secondhand smoke and other lung cancer risk factors like exposure to radon and certain types of air pollution.

Why is it so important that more people learn about lung cancer screening? Currently, only 16 percent of lung cancer cases are diagnosed early, when the disease is most curable. Screening can change that, but right now, it is vastly under-utilized. If only half of the people who are eligible for lung cancer screening were screened, approximately 15,000 lives would be saved. Imagine all of the parents, siblings and friends whose lives could be saved if everyone who is at high risk for lung cancer was screened.

We can start saving those lives today! If you think you might be at high risk for lung cancer, take our lung cancer screening eligibility quiz and find out. If you know someone who might be at high risk for lung cancer, spread the word and they could be “Saved By The Scan.”

If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with lung cancer, the American Lung Association is here to help. You’re not in this alone.

Much progress has been made in lung cancer early detection in the past 15 years. Join us in turning that research into action and defeating lung cancer once and for all.

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