Ask the Expert: A lung screening can help smokers breathe easier

By Tucson Medical Center

The risks of being a long-time smoker can weigh heavily on a person’s mind, especially with the threat of lung cancer. Early detection is vital for surviving lung cancer, but the symptoms do not often present themselves until the cancer is already advanced.

Modern CT scanning technology can find the tiniest of nodules, allowing doctors to see suspicious lesions when the tumors are small and can be removed. This screening can literally save lives.

Many people who have a high risk of lung cancer feel unable to take that first step of getting a screening. Kim Kastel, the nurse navigator for the lung cancer program at Tucson Medical Center, addresses some of the common emotional barriers she has heard to help people overcome the struggle to get testing.

Am I going to be pressured to stop smoking or am I going to be told off for smoking? I don’t want to be shamed.

Most providers offer a judgment-free zone. While we will encourage you to stop smoking, providers know this is a difficult process and we’re not going to pressure you to stop. We can direct you to resources that can help you stop smoking if you’re ready to take that step.

ASHLine is a local resource that can help if you’re ready to stop smoking and want support. They can be reached at 1.800.556.6222.

If I have cancer, it’s already too late. What’s the point?

With early intervention it is possible in some cases to literally cut the cancer out and be done with it — no chemo, no radiation, no medications. If a lesion is found that requires treatment beyond surgical removal, know that in the past 10 years cancer treatments have made huge bounds forward in targeted therapy and are continuing to advance.

I stopped smoking five years ago, so I don’t need to worry with a lung screening, right?

Congratulations, you have reached a great accomplishment and lowered your risk. But if you smoked for a long time you will still want to be checked.

Who should get checked?

Many providers offer lung CT screenings to individuals at high risk for developing lung cancer. You may be eligible for a screening if you are:

•between the ages of 55 and 77 (some insurance companies will cover up to 80 years of age).

•have smoked an average of one pack of cigarettes a day for the past 30 years.

•if not currently smoking, then quit smoking in the last 15 years.

Will insurance cover the screening?

Most insurance policies will cover the screening for those at high risk (see above). Medicare Part B covers a lung cancer screening with low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) once per year for those who meet all of these conditions:

•Aged 55 to 77

•Asymptomatic, i.e., no current signs or symptoms of lung cancer

•A current smoker or one who has quit within the last 15 years

•A history of tobacco smoking for at least 30 “pack years” (an average of one pack a day for 30 years)

•A written order from a doctor

Find out more about lung health screening by calling Kim Kastel, TMC nurse navigator, at 389.5390.