Do I Need Lung Cancer Screening If I’ve Quit Smoking?

The Short Answer from a pulmonary medicine expert

Do I Need Lung Cancer Screening If I've Quit Smoking?

Q: As an ex-smoker, do I need screening for lung cancer?

A: Talk to your doctor if you’re concerned about your risk for lung cancer. Lung cancer screening is recommended for those meeting all the new criteria for high risk, which include:

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  • Smoking the equivalent of 30 or more pack-years (e.g., two packs a day for 15 years, ¾ pack a day for 40 years)
  • Being 55 to 77 years old
  • Smoking within the past 15 years

Lung cancer screening is not recommended if your risk of lung cancer is low, because the harms of screening may outweigh its benefits.

In addition, screening is worthwhile only if you are healthy enough to tolerate the evaluation and treatment of any lung nodules or lung cancers that are found.

If your doctor recommends screening, look for a program where experts take the time to discuss its risks and benefits with you, and are experienced in lung cancer evaluation and treatment.

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Meanwhile, tell your doctor right away if you have any of these worrisome symptoms:

  • A new, persistent cough, or coughing up blood
  • Unexplained shortness of breath or chest pain
  • Unintentional weight loss

You may need testing to confirm or rule out the presence of lung cancer.

—Peter Mazzone, MD, MPH, Director, Lung Cancer Screening Program

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