By Mayo Clinic Staff
You can’t help but worry. You’ve been a smoker for more than a decade, and now you can’t seem to shake this cough. Or maybe you feel fine, but you can’t stop thinking about those years of cigarette smoking before you finally quit.
Should you be tested for lung cancer?
Routine lung cancer screening isn’t necessary for the average healthy person. Annual CT scans are only recommended if:
You are between the ages of 50 and 80 and have a 20-pack-year history of smoking. That means smoking one pack a day for 20 years or two packs a day for 10 years.
You have a similar smoking history but quit within the past 15 years.
You don’t need to get annual screens if you haven’t smoked for 15 years.
What about warning signs?
In its early stages, lung cancer doesn’t typically cause signs or symptoms. Warning signs generally only occur when the cancer is more advanced.
These may include:
Coughing up bloody mucus
Weakness and unexplained weight loss
Progressively worsening shortness of breath
Recurrent pneumonia or bronchitis
If you are at risk of lung cancer and are experiencing some of these signs, talk to your doctor. Tests may be recommended to confirm or rule out lung cancer.
Pros and cons of screening
Lung cancer screening can save lives by finding cancer earlier, when it may be treated more successfully. On the other hand, screening can also lead to unnecessary tests and worry when it uncovers nonthreatening conditions. Some of the changes seen on screening scans might be insignificant but still need to be followed up.
Talk to your doctor about the benefits and risks of screening for you.
And don’t delay. One report showed that only 15% of people at high risk of lung cancer underwent the recommended screening.