Here’s How to Get Screened for Lung Cancer — and Why It’s Important

Close up of a doctor hand listening to stethoscope beat while testing patient.
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November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month.

The American Cancer Society estimates that by the end of 2017, there will have been about 225,000 new cases of lung cancer diagnosed just this year. In the same time frame, there will have been about 155,870 lung cancer deaths.

But some of those deaths could have been prevented. A 2013 study found that screening all current and former smokers in the U.S. who fall within certain guidelines recommended by the National Lung Screening Trial could prevent or delay as many as 12,000 lung cancer deaths each year.

However, a more recent study by the same researchers led them to estimate that in 2015, only 262,700 of the 6.8 million people eligible for lung cancer screening received it.

Note: It’s important to remember that while lung cancer screening may prevent or delay a percentage of deaths each year, smoking is responsible for approximately 85% of all U.S. lung cancer deaths. The best way to reduce your risk of lung cancer is to quit smoking. You can find resources for inexpensive and free ways to quit here.

So Who Should Get Screened for Lung Cancer?

In December 2013, the United States Preventative Services Task Force began recommending that people with a high risk of developing lung cancer be screened using a low-dose CT scan rather than the previously accepted screening method, a chest x-ray.

(Talk to a medical professional about any concerns you may have and about the different types of lung cancer screening that may be an option for you.)

The American Cancer Society recommends that people who meet the following criteria should be screened for lung cancer with a low-dose CT scan:

  • Between 55 and 74 years old (the USPSTF says between 55 and 80)
  • In fairly good health — at least healthy enough to receive treatment
  • Are still a smoker or have quit smoking within the last 15 years

Lung Cancer Screening Resources

If you have concerns about your health, it may be time to look into lung cancer screening options.

  • Freetobreathe.org has a wealth of information and facts on the process of the screening itself. If the thought of getting screened makes you anxious or you just want to know a little bit more about the process, start here.
  • Medicare Parts A and B cover the first clinic appointment and screening counseling session, along with a low-dose CT for those who are eligible at most U.S. medical center clinics.
  • Occasionally, these medical center care clinics will host programs where people can receive a free low-dose CT screening. This largely varies by location and facility, but you should contact your local hospital, clinic or medical center to ask about upcoming events and discounts. If a screening is not provided for free, it can often be provided for just a fraction of the $100 to $500 (varies by location) out-of-pocket cost of a regular low-dose CT screening.
  • You can go here to follow an interactive “library” that will help you determine if your insurance will pay for part or all of your lung cancer screening.
  • The International Early Lung Cancer Action Program often offers people with a high risk of developing lung cancer the opportunity to be involved in studies (FAMRI or Legacy) that provide lung cancer screening at no cost. If you’re not eligible for one of these studies, talk to your doctor about studies that may be going on in your area.

If you have concerns about your lung health or fall within the high-risk guidelines for lung cancer screening eligibility, don’t wait. Talk to a medical professional as soon as possible so you can get started on the screening process.

Grace Schweizer is a junior writer at The Penny Hoarder.

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