Lung Cancer Screening
Two tests have commonly been used as lung cancer screening tests. However, it has not yet been shown that these screening tests decrease the chances of dying from lung cancer.
A chest x-ray is an x-ray of the organs and bones inside the chest. An x-ray is a type of energy beam that can go through the body and onto film, making a picture of areas inside the body.
Sputum cytology is a procedure in which a sample of sputum (mucus that is brought up from the lungs by coughing) is viewed under a microscope to check for cancer cells.
It can be difficult making decisions about whether to undergo screening for lung cancer. Not all tests are helpful, and most have risks. Before having any screening test, you may want to discuss the test with your doctor. It is important to know the risks of the test and whether it has been proven to reduce the risk of dying from cancer.
The risks of lung cancer screening tests include the following:
- Finding lung cancer may not improve health or help you live longer. Lung cancer screening may not improve your health or help you live longer if you have advanced lung cancer or if it has already spread to other places in your body. Also, some lung cancers never cause symptoms or become life-threatening, but if found by a screening test, the cancer may be treated. It is not known if treatment of these cancers would help a patient live longer than if no treatment were given, and treatments for cancer may have serious side effects.
- False-negative test results can occur. Test results may appear to be normal even though lung cancer is present. A person who receives a false-negative test result (one that shows there is no cancer when there really is) may delay seeking medical care even if there are symptoms.
- False-positive test results can occur. Test results may appear to be abnormal even though no cancer is present. A false-positive test result (one that shows there is cancer when there really isn't) can cause anxiety and is usually followed by more tests (such as biopsy), which also have risks. A biopsy to diagnose lung cancer can cause part of the lung to collapse. Sometimes surgery is needed to reinflate the lung.
- Chest x-rays expose the chest to radiation. Radiation exposure from chest x-rays may increase the risk of developing certain cancers, such as breast cancer.