Monitoring Your Lung Health with Cancer Screenings
Lung cancer screening can detect cancer earlier—even before symptoms show up. Earlier-stage cancers are more easily treatable. If you are at increased risk of developing lung cancer, you could benefit from regular low-dose CT scans to monitor your lung health.
“Finding lung cancer early leads to better outcomes, and screening with CT scans is recommended as the only proven way to minimize delay in diagnosis,” said Wellstar Thoracic Surgeon Dr. Daniel Fortes.
Our team has built one of the country’s largest and most comprehensive screening programs. Wellstar has been designated as a Screening Center of Excellence and Care Continuum Center of Excellence by the GO2 Foundation, an organization that supports lung cancer patients and educates about screenings and care. We’re also a designated Lung Cancer Screening Center by the American College of Radiology.
Evaluating your lung cancer risk
The United States Preventive Services Task Force has revised lung screening guidelines. You may qualify for screening if you are 50 to 80 years old and smoked for 20 years. If you are a former smoker, you may qualify if you quit less than 15 years ago.
“Those who are current or past smokers of cigarettes are more likely to develop lung cancer,” Dr. Fortes said. “However, while smoking is the leading risk factor for lung cancer, a large number of lung cancer patients have never smoked—1 in 5 women and 1 in 10 men diagnosed with lung cancer were never smokers.”
You may also be at increased risk of developing lung cancer if you have been exposed to radon, asbestos or other agents such as uranium or arsenic, according to the American Cancer Society. Previous radiation therapy in the lung area, such as chest radiation for breast cancer treatment, can also increase risk. Additionally, be sure to discuss your family history with your provider—siblings and children of people who have had lung cancer may have a higher risk of developing it.
Screening for lung cancer is not a one-time test, but a process that involves a periodic evaluation of your lungs over time to look for newly emerging cancer. CT scans can detect nodules that are compared over time for changes in size.
“For those who are at high risk for lung cancer, it is best to have nodules and lung health evaluated by a team of physicians specializing in lung cancer care so the appropriate decision can be made of continued observation versus the need for early intervention,” Dr. Fortes said.
Depending on the findings, some patients may have more or fewer exams. If findings are suspicious for lung cancer, your provider will contact you to discuss your screening results.
How do I schedule a screening?
An order from your physician is required to get a screening. Contact your primary care provider or a pulmonologist to talk about screening and when it may be right for you. Once an order has been obtained from your physician, call (470) 793-4AIR (4247) to schedule your appointment.
What if my scan shows a lung nodule?
Your care team will support you at every step of the screening process. If you have any questions about your results or your screening plan, contact your provider over the phone or using the secure messaging feature in MyChart. You can also call our cancer care team at (877) 366-6032 to learn about our care options.
All lung screenings are initially interpreted by a radiologist. A team of physicians who specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of lung cancer will review findings that are suspicious for cancer. Once the physicians complete their review of your images, your results are posted within three to five days to your MyChart account. Results will be communicated with you and your physician via MyChart or mail within one week.
If a lung cancer is suspected, our team will call you to answer your questions and arrange next steps. You will then meet with a physician specializing in lung cancer treatment.
Patients whose screening shows a lung nodule may feel concerned. However, you should not be overly concerned if your report indicates you have small lung nodules. Most people who meet eligibility for screening will have some. Nodules are very common—at least 50% of people have them by the time they are 50 years old.
Learn more at wellstar.org/lungcancer.