A Quick Guide on Lung Cancer: Screenings and Risk Factors

Lung cancer is the second most common cancer in the United States, though it is not often detected early. It usually has no noticeable symptoms until it is in an advanced stage, when a tumor grows so large that it starts pressing against other organs, causing pain and discomfort.

However, screenings offer hope for early detection, and avoiding risks can help prevent lung cancer from developing. Know what to expect from lung cancer screenings and what risks to avoid.

Lung Cancer Screenings

  • Why screen for lung cancer? More people die of lung cancer than any other cancer each year. A recent large study has shown that for certain individuals with a history of smoking, early screening helped reduce mortality rates. (© One Photo | Dreamstime.com)
  • Who should be screened for lung cancer? Individuals age 55-77 who are current smokers or have smoked the equivalent of 30 pack years (number of packs a day smoked x number of years smoked) are screening candidates. If you are at risk, please ask your doctor about getting screened. (© Simone Van Den Berg | Dreamstime.com)
  • Do I need a doctor’s order? A referral from your primary care physician or pulmonologist is needed. (© Thodonal | Dreamstime.com)
  • Does insurance cover the cost of screening? Most insurance plans cover the cost and, depending on your plan, there may be a co-pay. Medicare does cover the cost. (© Olivier Le Moal | Dreamstime.com)
  • How safe is screening? Johns Hopkins Medical Imaging in Columbia uses an ultra low-dose CT scanner which reduces CT radiation exposure up to 60 percent, compared to traditional scanners. [Credit: [Jupiterimages]/Thinkstock]

Lung Cancer Risks

  • Smoking
    Cigarette smoking is the most significant risk factor in developing lung cancer. Nearly 90 percent of lung cancer diagnoses can be prevented if cigarette smoking were eliminated.
  • Family history
    People who have a family member diagnosed with lung cancer are twice as likely to develop cancer as someone without a family history of lung cancer. That rate increases for those who have two or more first-degree relatives (brothers, sisters, parents or children) who developed lung cancer.
  • Secondhand smoke
    While the same cancer-causing agents are inhaled in smaller amounts, secondhand smoke does increase the risk of developing lung cancer.
  • Occupational exposure
    Exposure to asbestos, once common among specific construction and manufacturing jobs and firefighters, is known to cause mesothelioma. Other toxins, such as arsenic, nickel and chromium, as well as tar and soot, can also increase the risk of developing lung cancer, especially among those who smoke.
  • Environmental exposure
    Chemicals and other cancer causing substances may exist in homes and offices, increasing the risk of people who live and work in them. The most common culprit is radon. Thirty percent of deaths caused by lung cancer have been linked to radon exposure in people who have never smoked with the percentage increasing for those who have smoked.
  • Vitamin supplements
    Beta carotene was once believed to have aided in reducing the risk of lung cancer among heavy smokers. Substantial evidence now shows beta carotene supplements increases the risk of lung cancer, especially among people who smoke one or more packs a day.

Read more about lung cancer, screenings, smoking and e-cigarettes.