A Low Radiation CT Scan Can Catch Lung Cancer Early – Significantly Improving Outcomes

By: Sunayna Bakaya, M.D., medical director, Imaging Center, MemorialCare Long Beach Medical Center

Lung cancer is the second most common cancer in both men and women (not counting skin cancer). It is often found when the tumor is relatively large, which results in treatment that may require more extensive surgery, chemotherapy, and/or radiation therapy and less favorable outcomes.

Cancer screenings find cancer early, often before symptoms occur. The earlier cancer is found, the more effective treatments may be. Survival rates improve significantly with early treatment. Similar to other screening tests, such as a mammogram or colonoscopy, it’s important for people at risk for lung cancer to consider a lung cancer screening as a regular preventive health check.

Screenings were down nearly 90% amid the pandemic, which may result in delayed diagnosis and less favorable outcomes. If you delayed a screening test in the last two years, now is the time to catch up.

Who Should be Screened for Lung Cancer?

For people at high risk for lung cancer, including those with a history of smoking, Long Beach Medical Center offers a low-dose radiation computed tomography (CT) scan to screen for lung cancer. It’s recommended annually if you:

  • Are between 50 and 80 years old, and
  • Smoke now or have quit within the past 15 years, and
  • Have a history of heavy smoking (20 pack years or more).
    • A pack year is smoking an average of one pack of cigarettes per day for one year.

This low-dose lung cancer screening CT uses significantly less radiation, 2/3 less than a conventional CT scan. It also takes significantly less time – just a few minutes – making this screening convenient.

The same way a colonoscopy doesn’t guarantee you have colon cancer; a lung cancer screening does not mean your doctor thinks you have lung cancer.

Even if a lung nodule (growth on the lung) is detected, not all lung nodules are caused by cancer. Each case is reviewed at the MemorialCare Todd Cancer Institute at Long Beach Medical Center by a team of multi-disciplinary experts, including radiologists, pulmonologists and more to determine the most direct, least invasive approach to treatment. If cancer is detected, the MemorialCare Todd Cancer Institute offers the latest in targeted treatments, radiation therapy and surgery.

If you have questions about a lung cancer screening, call Long Beach Medical Center’s Lung Nurse Navigator, Kathryn (Kitty) Campuzano, at (562) 480-7747.

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