Lung cancer accounts for the highest number of cancer deaths because it usually does not produce any noticeable symptoms in the early stages. As a result, it goes untreated and most patients only go to see a doctor when the cancer has already spread to other parts of the body, by which stage treatment is usually unsuccessful and the cancer is likely to prove fatal. However, if the cancer is found in the early stages, there is a 90% chance of cure.
Smoking is a major cause of lung cancer. Therefore, lung cancer screening is highly recommended in smokers as they are considered a high-risk group. However, some people who may not consider themselves high risk, such as women who do not smoke but who are subject to passive smoking, are actually also at risk of developing lung cancer. As a result, it is not enough to screen only the high-risk groups to detect lung cancer in the early stages.
With the latest advanced technology, lung cancer screening can now be performed with low-dose computed tomography (low-dose CT). This screening method takes 3-dimensional x-rays of the lungs in high resolution with reduced exposure to radiation. Low-dose CT helps to:
- Detect abnormalities that could be cancerous even though they are small or obscured. Low-dose CT scanning is faster and more reliable than standard screening chest x-rays which can detect only large cancer tumors or tumors that are not hidden behind the heart, bones or lungs.
- Screen for lung cancer in the early stages so that treatment can commence before the cancer spreads to other parts of the body.
- Reduce exposure to radiation due to low-dose CT
Screening helps to detect lung cancer at a very early stage and reduces the risk of the lung cancer becoming fatal. Low-dose CT screening is recommended for people at high risk of developing lung cancer, including:
- Smokers or former smokers older than 50
- People living with smokers or exposed to secondhand smoke
- People exposed to long-term pollution and toxins, such as asbestos, radon gas, toxic air pollutants from vehicles and industrial factories
- People with a family history of lung cancer
- People with a chronic cough from an unknown cause
People with the above risk factors should consult with a doctor to obtain medical advice. People with no risk factors, such as young people and non-smokers, should also watch out for any symptoms that may indicate a lung disease. If you develop any symptoms such as a cough from an unknown cause, a cough without a cold, or a chronic cough, please see a doctor who will conduct a detailed examination and may recommend a lung cancer screening test. It could just save your life.
By Prof. Dr. Yongyudh Ploysongsang, Pulmonologist, Pulmonary (Lung) Center Bumrungrad Hospital
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