According to the CDC, more people die of lung cancer than any other cancer. In fact, in 2005 lung cancer killed more people than colon cancer, prostate cancer, and breast cancer combined. Given the deadliness of this illness, it’s only rational to expect there to be a lung cancer screening mechanism. After all, there are millions of medical tests for millions of illnesses … isn’t there a lung cancer test too?
There is currently a debate brewing over lung cancer screening. There are those that believe that current and former smokers who are at an increased risk of lung cancer should have a lung cancer test in the form of a CT scan. A CT scan would give a doctor a picture of your lungs and help direct the diagnosis of lung cancer in hopes of helping you survive.
On the other hand, there are many doctors who do not recommend lung cancer screening. In fact, according to Dr. Midthun at the Mayo Clinic, there is currently no proven way to effectively perform lung cancer screening. Cervical cancers have the pap smear. Colon cancers have the colonoscopy. Breast cancers have the mammogram. Lung cancer has no effective lung cancer tests.
After reading the article posted by Mayo Clinic Staff, I see their point about a reluctance to lung cancer screening. I have three reasons that I think that lung cancer screening is not necessarily a good thing.
Asymptomatic Lung Cancer Screening Issue #1: Clinical Tests Don’t Show a Decrease in Death Rates
Although CT scans may help diagnose more cases of lung cancer, this lung cancer test has not proven effective. It his method of lung cancer screening were effective, less people would die from the disease. Unfortunately that is not the case.
Asymptomatic Lung Cancer Screening Issue #2: Lung Cancer Tests Cause Unwarranted Testing and Anxiety
Smokers have scarring on their lungs. This is due to damage caused by the fumes that they have breathed in over the course of many years. Many times, this scar tissue can be mistaken for cancer. As I know from a close-call with cervical cancer, the very possibility of cancer is enough to unravel even the strongest of wills. This misdiagnosis leads to unnecessary tests and unnecessary worries on the part of patients and their families. A more definitive lung cancer test would be helpful in making sure that unnecessary tests aren’t performed and that people aren’t prematurely worried.
Asymptomatic Lung Cancer Screening Issue #3: Some Cancers Found are Too Slow to Cause a Problem and Others are Too Aggressive for Diagnosis to Matter
Sometimes when lung cancer is diagnosed via a proactive CT scan, the cancers found are either too slow growing to ever cause a problem during the life of an individual or too aggressive. The aggressive cancers grow too quickly and will kill the patient regardless of treatment given – often quickly. Knowing about a slow growing cancer and undergoing treatments that may not have been necessary reduce quality of life. In addition, having a cancer diagnosis leaves many patients with an understandable amount of anxiety.
Lung cancer is a different from other cancers. Although there are currently no lung cancer tests that prove useful for lung cancer screening, doctors are working tirelessly to find a way to screen for lung cancer. If you’re worried about lung cancer and are a smoker, QUIT SMOKING! That’s the single best thing you can do to prevent lung cancer.