Should I get tested for Lung Cancer? Lung Cancer screening

Should I get tested for Lung Cancer? Lung Cancer screening

Smoking is a common risk factor for developing COPD and it also greatly increases the chances of lung cancer. Nine out of 10 lung cancers are associated with smoking. The more the exposure, the higher the risk. So, if you have COPD and you are currently smoking or have smoked in past, it’s important for you to understand when to get tested for lung cancer and be an advocate for your health.


Screening for Lung cancer means that we look for this cancer in people who are at a high of developing this problem, even before they have any signs or symptom of lung cancer.


Screening tests detect the cancer in early stages when it is easy to treat. An early diagnosis of lung cancer is important for successful treatment. All major medical societies recommend lung cancer screening in high-risk individuals.


The United States preventive services task force (USPSTF) recommends annual screening in high-risk people using a CT scan of the chest. Unfortunately, a simple chest Xray is not sufficient to detect small cancers in the lung, which is why we use CT. It is recommended for people

(1) 50 to 80 years of age

(2) who are current smokers, or it has been less than 15 years since they quit, and

(3) have 20 or more pack-years of smoking history in their life.  


Pack years is a way to assess how much a person has smoked in their life. To calculate, multiply the number of cigarette packs a person smoked per day by the number of years of cigarette use. For example, a person who smokes one pack a day for 20 years has 20-pack years. If someone smoked half a pack for 40 years that would also be 20-pack years.

Pack Years = (Number packs of cigarette per day) x (Number of years of smoking)


For people who meet these criteria, a yearly low-radiation CT scan of lungs should be performed. You can stop the testing if it has been more than 15 years since you quit smoking. Although getting a CT scan every year might seem like a lot of radiation, with the advances in medical imaging, the amount of radiation from each scan is now much lower and safe.


On the CT scan we look for any abnormal spots or nodules that may be concerning for cancer. Most people will not have any nodules, which is good, but at times we find spots that need to be evaluated further. Having a nodule does not always mean it is cancer. Depending on its size, shape, and location the expert doctors may recommend

  • Keeping a close eye on it with repeat CT scans
  • May consider a biopsy using a bronchoscopy or CT scan, or
  • Surgery to remove the affected part.


Keep in mind, even if your first CT scan is normal, new spots can still develop with time. So, you should continue screening every year as long as you are still eligible. Ask your lung doctors if you have any questions!


Many hospitals offer a comprehensive lung cancer screening program with timely reminders and teams of experts for best solutions available. Talk to you doctor to learn more     


Although dealing with the results of the screening CT scan may seem stressful, it is important to know that if a spot ends up being cancer, then it can be taken care of at an early stage, and we have more chances of cure.


The number one reason for developing lung cancer is smoking. So, the most important thing you can do is to NEVER smoke. And if you smoke, try best to quit as soon as possible. After quitting, the risk of lung cancer starts decreasing with every passing year, and by 10 years the risk is half compared to when you were smoking.

Remember, it’s never too late to quit smoking!


It will save you from different cancers including cancers of lung, throat, mouth, and urine bladder. It will also help you in improving the symptoms of COPD, worsening of lung function and the risk of COPD flare ups. This is in addition to other health benefits for you heart, brain, blood vessels and mood. Check our blog and video to learn about smoking cassation tips.

By avoiding smoking and appropriate screening tests we can save many lives.

Let’s be grateful for the gift of health!


Author & expert review by Dr Muhammad Ahsan Zafar, MD, MS. Dr Zafar is an Associate Professor of Pulmonary & Critical Care at University of Cincinnati. He is also the co-founder of PEP Buddy. This blog is for general information. Please discuss your health issues with you doctors/ medical team.