Thoracic Surgery – Lung Cancer Screening

For those at high risk, screening for lung cancer could save your life. Is it right for you?

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Fax referrals and additional information to 717-531-0395

What is screening?

Screening is looking for cancer before a person has any symptoms. This can help find cancer at an early stage. When abnormal tissue or cancer is found early, it may be easier to treat. By the time symptoms appear, cancer may have begun to spread.

Why should I be screened for lung cancer at Penn State Cancer Institute?

The Cancer Institute's Lung Cancer Screening Program is based in the region's premier academic medical center. Our multidisciplinary team of board-certified pulmonologists, thoracic surgeons, thoracic oncologists, radiation oncologists, thoracic radiologists, and nurse practitioners work together to provide patients at risk for developing lung cancer with individualized screening evaluation. Our program includes:

  • Personalized lung cancer risk assessment and clinical evaluation
  • Detailed discussion of benefits and risks of lung cancer screening
  • Smoking cessation counseling and treatment for current smokers
  • Low-dose screening CT scan based on the clinical assessment
  • CT scan review and interpretation by a dedicated and experienced team
  • Management recommendations of any findings from our expert panel
  • Effective communication with primary care providers
  • Continuity of care and ongoing monitoring

Who is a candidate for lung cancer screening?

Lung cancer screening is beneficial for adults 55 to 80 years old who are current smokers with the equivalent of at least one package of cigarettes per day for 30 years, or who are former smokers with the equivalent of at least one package of cigarettes per day for 30 years and who have quit within the past 15 years.

What can I expect at the screening?

Prior to the visit, you will be called by a nurse practitioner who will discuss your risk assessment and explain the screening process. At your visit, you will meet with the nurse practitioner, discuss risks and benefits of screening, sign consent for participation in the program (including a patient registry), and undergo the CT scan. The results will be given to you by phone or, if you wish to wait for a short period, in a face-to-face discussion.

What happens if an abnormality is found?

Because a screening CT scan is extremely sensitive, it detects small abnormalities or nodules (spots) in the lung in about 25 percent of people screened; however, more than 95 percent of these are NOT cancer. A potentially concerning spot will be reviewed by our team and further diagnostic testing may be required.

Are there any risks to being screened?

Decisions about cancer screening tests can be difficult. Most tests have risks, and it is important to understand them prior to screening.

  • A false-negative test result (one that appears to be normal even though lung cancer is present) and a false-positive test result (one that shows cancer when there really is none) can occur.
  • Screening may not improve your health or prolong your life if you have lung cancer that has already spread to other places in your body.
  • Some cancers never cause symptoms or become life threatening, but if found by a screening test, the cancer may be unnecessarily treated.
  • For those at very high risk of developing lung cancer, screening reduces the chance of dying from this disease.

Should I worry about exposure to radiation?

The dose of radiation used in lung cancer screening is very low. The increased risk of cancer from exposure to a single screening CT scan is likely to be very small. If there is reason to believe that a CT scan is the best way to look for cancer or other diseases, you will most likely be helped more than the small dose of radiation can hurt. Most studies have not been able to detect an increased risk of cancer among people exposed to low levels of radiation.

If I choose to be screened, does this mean I will not get lung cancer?

The purpose of screening is to detect lung cancer early. Screening does not impact your likelihood of developing lung cancer.

How do I know if I am at risk of developing lung cancer?

Smoking, family history, COPD or lung disease, and exposure to second-hand smoke, asbestos, or radon all can contribute to your risk.

If, following screening, I am diagnosed with lung cancer, what resources are available to me?

If your screening CT scan shows a suspicious finding, a management plan will be suggested, offering the broad experience of the multidisciplinary thoracic oncology team.

  • A biopsy may be obtained, and if it shows lung cancer, a treatment plan will be formulated.
  • You will be offered care by the foremost lung cancer treatment team in the region that includes interventional pulmonologists with extensive experience in advanced diagnostic and therapeutic modalities; thoracic surgeons specializing in minimally invasive surgery as well as complex open operations; medical oncologists with expertise in personalized, targeted therapy; and radiation oncologists who provide the most contemporary strategy.
  • If applicable, you will be offered participation in clinical trials.
  • After treatment, you will be enrolled in our Lung Cancer Survivorship Program, where we will continue to follow you, focusing on your quality of life and ongoing cancer surveillance.

Is lung cancer screening covered by my insurance?

At this time, certain insurance companies cover lung cancer screening. It is best to contact your insurance provider directly to confirm if screening is covered or if it is an out-of-pocket expense.

Sources: National Cancer Institute: PDQ Lung Cancer Screening. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute. American Cancer Society.

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