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Are you at risk of lung cancer? It's a question that might not cross your mind, but it's one that could potentially save your life. 


By Ngozika Orjioke, MD

Covenant Pulmonary Critical Care


Are you at risk of lung cancer? It's a question that might not cross your mind, but it's one that could potentially save your life. 


Let me share a powerful story with you. A few years ago, a patient walked into my office who was a long-time smoker. Recognizing her risk for lung cancer, I recommended a low-dose CT scan. The results revealed that she did in fact have cancer, but thankfully, it was in the early stages. Swift action led to a successful surgery, sparing her from the ordeal of chemotherapy or radiation. Today, she is cancer-free. Yet, had she hesitated, her outcome might have been drastically different.

If you smoke – or  have in the past – and meet the eligibility requirements, you should seriously consider getting screened for lung cancer.

Why Lung Cancer Screening Matters

You might be surprised to learn that more people die of lung cancer than any other type of cancer. In the U.S. alone, more than 200,000 people are expected to be diagnosed with this disease, and about half will die, according to statistics from the Lung Cancer Research Foundation.


And if you smoke cigarettes, your chances are even greater of developing lung cancer. Smoking stands as the leading risk factor, making up nearly 90% of cases, according to the American Lung Association. Plus, a generation of adolescents growing up with vaping are potentially harming their lungs and increasing their likelihood of developing cancer in their lifetime.


The good news is: If you get screened early, you have the best chance of surviving this disease. 

Who Should Get Screened for Lung Cancer

  • You are between 50 and 80 years old, have a 20 pack-year smoking history and you currently smoke or have quit in the past 15 years. So to break it down - if you have smoked a pack a day for the last 20 years, or two packs a day for the last 10 years, you have a 20 pack-year history and should get screened for lung cancer.


  • You are a person of color (African American, Latino, Native American, Asian Pacific Islander). People from minority communities typically have worse outcomes – they are less likely to get an early diagnosis, have reduced access to surgery, and are more likely to receive no treatment at all, according to the American Lung Association. This disparity is something I am determined to change with my patients.

Why You Should Get a Lung Cancer Screening

If you smoke – or  have in the past – and meet the eligibility requirements, you should seriously consider getting screened for lung cancer. And the earlier, the better. You might not experience any symptoms at this point, as lung cancer often remains asymptomatic until it reaches an advanced, less treatable stage. 


So what does the screening entail? You will undergo a CT scan, a non-invasive procedure that uses a low dose of radiation to provide detailed imaging of your lungs. This screening for high-risk patients is typically covered by insurance, similar to a mammogram or colonoscopy. 


What’s surprising is that, despite the importance in detecting lung cancer, very few people get screened. Only 5% of eligible Americans take advantage of this early intervention, according to the American Lung Association, and some states have screening rates as low as 1%.


This is why I encourage my high-risk patients to be proactive in detecting lung cancer. If you meet the criteria, talk with your doctor about undergoing a CT scan.


I understand if you're feeling apprehensive. The prospect of undergoing a screening can be daunting, especially if it means facing the possibility of a cancer diagnosis. However, wouldn't you rather know sooner rather than later? Knowledge empowers us to make informed decisions about our health, and it can save your life.


You might think, "But I feel fine. Why should I bother with a screening?" The reason is that lung cancer can lurk undetected for years, silently spreading throughout your lungs until it's too late. By the time symptoms like coughing or chest pain emerge, the cancer may have already reached an advanced stage. We want to catch the disease – and treat it – before it gets to that point.


Getting screened won't make you immune to lung cancer, but it does give us a fighting chance. It's a proactive step towards safeguarding your health. So if you're in the high-risk category, I urge you to consider getting screened. It's a simple, non-invasive procedure that could make all the difference.


Lung cancer screening isn't just about detecting a disease – it's about taking control of your destiny.


Don't let fear or complacency stand in the way of your health. You owe it to yourself and your loved ones to take this important step. 


Ngozika Orjioke, MD, FCCP, is a board-certified physician in Pulmonary and Critical Care in metro Atlanta. With more than 30 years of experience, she is devoted to helping her patients in the treatment of lung-related illnesses, such as asthma, COPD, sleep apnea, tobacco use disorder, HIV-related lung disease and more. She is committed to improving the health of her community, and provides exceptional and culturally sensitive care to every patient. She appears on the American Lung Association’s list of Trusted Organizations in the Black Community, and is ranked in the top 25 by U.S. News among 358 pulmonologists in Atlanta. Dr. Orjioke is affiliated with Southern Regional Medical Center.

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