Medical questions & health advice by board certified doctors
"How often should smokers have lung cancer screenings?"
I smoke regularly and lung cancer is always at the back of my mind. How often should I be screened? I am a 40 year old male.
As you already know, smoking markedly increases your risk for lung cancer. You are right to have cancer "at the back of [your] mind," but you should even more strongly think about quitting smoking. Talk to your primary care physician, who can help to guide you through this process. In the past few years the medical field has come up with lots of new medications and modes of therapy to help patients quit. There have been many studies looking at whether or not smokers should be screened for cancer. Studies have looked at doing regular chest x-rays, regular CT scans, or even bronchoscopies (putting a camera down into the lung to look at the airways). None of these studies have shown that regularly screening smoking patients for lung cancer helps to decrease the risk of death from it. The reason is that lung cancer is very aggressive. Other cancers (like colon cancer for which we do colonoscopies), when caught "early" can have curative therapy (like taking out that part of the colon). Lung cancer, even if caught on a "screening" chest x-ray, is likely to have spread locally in the lung, to nearby lymph nodes, or to other organs. Thus, current recommendations are NOT to screen for lung cancer, even in smokers. If you have any symptoms (difficulty breathing, coughing up blood, chest pain), you should see your primary care physician or a pulmonologist right away.