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Healthy Balance

Lung Cancer Screening: The Test That Could Save Your Life

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Lung cancer is one of the deadliest. One-fourth of cancer deaths in the U.S. are from lung cancer. And less than 20% of people live 5 years after they’re diagnosed.

The good news: lung cancer screening works. It cuts down on lung cancer deaths, research shows.

But not enough people get a screening.

“It should be just as common as mammography and colonoscopy,” says Aimee Strong, DNP, program coordinator for UVA Health’s lung cancer screening program. “But today, less than 10% of people eligible for screening are getting screened.”

Screening could save many more lives.

UVA Cancer Center is one of 50 top cancer organizations in the U.S. calling for more screenings for people at high risk for lung cancer.

Should I Get a Lung Cancer Screening?

Medicare, Medicaid, and many other insurances cover lung cancer screening if you:

Have You Been a Smoker?

A lung cancer screening could find cancer early and save your life.

Not sure how many pack years you’ve smoked? Use this tool to find out.

At UVA Health, our team can help make sure you’re covered.

“The lung cancer screening team at UVA Health receives pre-authorization from each patient’s insurance provider. This makes sure patients are approved and aware of potential costs upfront,” says Strong.

How Does Lung Cancer Screening Work?

Screening includes a low-dose CT scan of the lungs. This imaging procedure uses special X-rays to see detailed “slices” of the body. The screening is quick, easy, and non-invasive. There’s no IV needed, and there’s minimal radiation exposure (even less than radiation in the environment).

Radiologists specially trained in lung cancer screening will review your scans. If we find cancer, we have a team of lung cancer experts at UVA Cancer Center who can help.

Why Should I Get Screened?

Screening helps find cancer earlier. When we find cancer earlier, the chance it’s spread beyond the lungs is lower. We can treat it more easily, and you’re more likely to live.

“We know early detection is key to improving survival. And the majority of lung cancers we’re finding during screening are in stage 1 when they are highly treatable,” says Strong.

But wouldn’t you feel it if you have cancer? You might not until it’s too late. We call lung cancer the “silent killer” because symptoms — cough, shortness of breath, weight loss — often don’t show up until the cancer is advanced.

“Unfortunately, greater than 70% of lung cancers are detected too late. When the chance for a cure is much lower,” explains Michael Hanley, MD, medical director of the UVA Health's screening program.

Do I Have to Quit Smoking?

No, but the team can help if you want to quit. Our counselors can help you get medications and connect you with resources to quit.

“A lot of patients feel guilty about smoking. Or they’re afraid what screening will show them,” says Strong. “However, we don't judge. Many of our patients began smoking as teens. That was a different time and tobacco companies made smoking very attractive and very addictive.”

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