The current public service announcements about lung cancer talk directly to smokers (smoking accounts for around 80% of cases of lung cancer) about the devastation it causes. But despite the fact that 350 people a day in the U.S. die from lung cancer, hardly anyone at risk gets screened for it.
While 70% to 75% of Americans regularly get mammograms, colonoscopies, PAP smears, and PSA blood tests (even without having known risk factors), only around 5.7% get a low-dose CT scan that can detect lung cancer early, when there's a chance to defeat the disease.
There are many obstacles. They range from reluctance that people have to admit they're at risk to the complex requirements they and their doctor have to meet to get insurance companies or the government to pay for the exam.
And then there's the potential risk from an annual scan's radiation.
But we do know that early diagnosis is lifesaving. That's why the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that people ages 50 to 80 who currently smoke or have quit within the past 15 years and are — or were — heavy smokers get a scan. That generally means you smoked a pack a day for 20 years or the equivalent.
Is that you? If so, talk to your doctor about the benefits and risks of getting scanned.
There are around 20,000 lung cancer deaths among non-smokers every year in the U.S. If you have risk factors from exposure to environmental toxins, for example, you too should discuss being screened with your doctor.