By Sunayna Bakaya, M.D.

Contributing writer

According to the American Cancer Society, lung cancer mainly occurs in older adults. The average age of people when diagnosed is about 70 years old.

Historically, lung cancer is often found late and in an advanced stage, making it harder than other cancers to treat. As a result, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths among both men and women in the United States and claims more lives each year than colon, breast and prostate cancers combined. That statistic could change as more people begin to get regular lung cancer screenings.

Sunayna Bakaya, M.D.

The screening for lung cancer was developed as a result of the National Lung Cancer Screening Trial, which was sponsored by the National Cancer Institute. The National Lung Cancer Screening Trial demonstrated that an annual screening with low-dose computed tomography scanning under the guidance of a dedicated comprehensive lung cancer screening program resulted in a 20% decrease in deaths related to lung cancer.

A lung cancer screening is a regular preventive health check, like a mammogram or a colonoscopy, that checks your lungs while you are feeling healthy and looks for any changes from year to year.

Using a type of CT scan known as low-dose CT, physicians can view detailed pictures of the chest to help find abnormalities in the lungs that a normal x-ray can’t, while using lower amounts of radiation than a standard chest CT. This is important, since frequent exposure to higher doses of radiation may cause additional health problems. But the best part is the scan takes less than a minute.

Just because your doctor recommends a lung cancer screening, doesn’t mean he or she thinks you have cancer. About one person for every 100 screened will result in a cancer diagnosis, based on data from the National Lung Cancer Screening Trial. This is important to do whether you are a current smoker or a former smoker who hasn’t smoked in years.

A lung cancer screening is recommended if you:

  • Are between 55 and 80-years-old;
  • Are currently a smoker or have quit within the past 15 years; and
  • Have smoked at least a pack of cigarettes a day for 30 years (or the equivalent).

The out of pocket cost for a lung cancer screening is $193.

But private insurance will cover the screening if you meet the high-risk criteria and are 55-to-80 years old. If you’re a Medicare beneficiary, the screening will be covered if you meet the criteria and are 55-to-77 years old.

The criteria for the screening is heavily dependent on age, since lung cancer occurs most often after age 65, as well as your history with smoking, since the American Lung Association estimates that smoking is responsible for close to 90% of lung cancer cases.

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