By: Jimmy Johannes, M.D., pulmonologist, MemorialCare Long Beach Medical Center

More than 161,000 people die from lung cancer each year in the United States. Lung cancer causes more deaths than breast, colon, and prostate cancer combined.

Smoking is the most important cause of lung cancer. It contributes to between 80% and 90% of lung cancer deaths. Lung cancer screening is recommended yearly for people who are between 50 and 80 years old, who are current smokers or who have quit in the last 15 years. Besides smoking, individuals are at a greater risk for lung cancer if they have a family history of lung cancer, have a history of chronic lung disease, or are exposed to occupational agents known to target the lungs. Lung cancer can be divided into two major groups: non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), which accounts for about 85% of lung cancers, and Small Cell Lung Cancer (SCLC) which accounts for about 15% of lung cancers.

Early detection is key to catching and treating at the earliest stages of lung cancer and will improve the survival rate of patients. Symptoms of lung cancer, such as persistent cough, shortness of breath, loss of appetite, weight loss, chest pain and wheezing do not typically show until the cancer is advanced. Often those with early lung cancer have no symptoms. This is why lung cancer screening is an important tool to find lung cancer early when it can most likely be cured. It is important to speak with a primary care physician to determine your eligibility for a potentially life-saving screening.

At the MemorialCare Todd Cancer Institute at Long Beach Medical Center, radiologists utilize low-dose computed tomography (CT) scan of the chest to screen for lung cancer. The low-dose CT limits the amount of radiation a person would receive compared to that of a standard CT scan. This low-dose CT captures a detailed set of pictures of a patient’s lungs to identify spots or nodules which may reflect cancer. Studies show that lung cancer screening with low-dose CT scans of the chest leads to 20% fewer lung cancer deaths. Lung cancer screening increases the detection of lung cancer at Stage 1 by 85%. For high-risk patients, even if no abnormalities are seen in an initial scan, an annual screening is recommended.

The Lung Program at the MemorialCare Todd Cancer Institute offers advanced state-of-the-art technology and comprehensive care for the detection, treatment and prevention of lung cancer and lung abnormalities. The program’s care team consists of physician experts; a lung nurse navigator, who guides patients through the screening and treatment process; and a thoracic nurse, who provides education and resources during a patient’s treatment plan. The MemorialCare Todd Cancer Institute is a regional leader in diagnosis and surgical outcomes while keeping the patient’s experience at the forefront of their recovery. U.S. News & World Report recognized MemorialCare Todd Cancer Institute as a ‘High Performing Hospital’ for Cancer.

For individuals interested in learning more or wanting support to quit cigarette smoking, MemorialCare Long Beach Medical Center offers a Freedom from Smoking program to help support this lifestyle change with classes from certified American Lung Association instructors. The program features a personalized plan, education on smoking cessation aids, and assists in building strategies for managing stress and avoiding weight gain.

Speak with your primary care physician about getting a lung cancer screening, or check out MemorialCare’s Freedom from Smoking program that provides support to those who are considering or have quit smoking. If you have questions about a lung cancer screening or the Freedom from Smoking program, visit