Everything You Need to Know About Lung Cancer Screenings

Because lung cancer screenings have become prevalent in just the past five or six years, many people still aren't very familiar with them. But for at-risk patients, they’re an incredibly important part of healthcare — especially here in South Carolina, which has an above-average number of smokers.

“For a scan that costs just a few dollars, takes a few minutes, and has little if any side effects, it can have such a dramatic, profound impact,” says Dr. Elizabeth Kline, a board certified thoracic surgeon at Roper St. Francis Healthcare.

Here’s everything you need to know about lung cancer screenings.

How do lung cancer screenings work?

A lung screening is a low-dose CT scan that aims to detect lung cancer at an early stage, when it's more likely to be curable. It takes just a few minutes, and the results are usually ready within a day or two. At that point, your doctor interprets the results and gives you further instruction.

Most at-risk patients are encouraged to come in for a screening once a year, or occasionally more often if there are any abnormal findings, Dr. Kline says. It’s often included in your preventive care benefits and is then at no cost to you.

How much radiation will I be exposed to?

Patients are, understandably, often worried about radiation exposure, but according to Dr. Kline, the radiation from a lung screening is equal to the radiation exposure from living in sunny Charleston for six months or taking one cross-country flight.

Who should be getting them?

If you meet the following criteria, you're encouraged to get yearly screenings:

  • you're between the ages of 55 and 77
  • you're an active tobacco smoker or you've stopped within the past 15 years
  • you show no clinical symptoms of lung cancer, and you've had a tobacco exposure of at least 30 pack years. (That means one pack a day for 30 years, two packs a day for 15 years, and so on.)

To get a screening, you need an order from your doctor.

What are the benefits of lung cancer screenings?

Compared to ordinary chest X-rays, CT scans can find cancerous nodules much earlier, which means more cancers are detected early — when they can still be cured. Soon, Dr. Kline predicts, 75% of cancers initially diagnosed from these screenings will be curable.

“It’s really exciting,” Dr. Kline says. “I’ve seen a lot and there’s a lot left to come in my career, but low-dose CT scans have had one of the biggest impacts in patient outcomes and survival in the last 50 years.”

At Roper St. Francis, a multidisciplinary group of lung cancer experts work together to review each scan and make recommendations.

“That’s something not every place has,” Dr. Kline says. “That’s something unique and good about Roper St. Francis and speaks to the quality of care that we provide.

As the Lowcountry leader in adult healthcare, Roper St. Francis is equipped with state-of-the-art services for detecting and treating lung cancer. To learn more about all the healthcare services available or to schedule an appointment, call (843) 402-CARE or visit online.