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Screening statement for Patients

Screening for Lung Cancer

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Overview of Screening
Lung Cancer Screening
Changes to This Summary (06/10/2003)
To Learn More
About PDQ

Overview of Screening

What is screening?

Screening for cancer is examination (or testing) of people for early signs of a certain type of cancer even though they have no symptoms. Scientists have studied patterns of cancer in the population to learn which people are more likely to get certain types of cancer. They have also studied what things around us and what things we do in our lives may cause cancer. This information helps doctors recommend who should be screened for certain types of cancer, what types of screening tests people should have, and how often these tests should be done. Not all screening tests are helpful, and most have risks such as partial collapse of the lung after a biopsy to investigate an abnormal screening test. For this reason, scientists at the National Cancer Institute are studying many screening tests to find out how useful they are.

If your doctor suggests certain cancer screening tests as part of your health care plan, this does not mean he or she thinks you have cancer. Screening tests are done when you have no symptoms. Since decisions about screening can be difficult, you may want to discuss them with your doctor and ask questions about the potential benefits and risks of screening tests and whether they have been proven to decrease the risk of dying from cancer.

If you have signs or symptoms of cancer, your doctor will order certain tests to see whether you have cancer. These are called diagnostic tests.

Purposes of this summary

The purposes of this summary on lung cancer screening are to:

You can talk to your doctor or health care professional about cancer screening and whether it would be likely to help you.

Lung Cancer Screening

The lungs are part of the respiratory system. Their function is to supply oxygen to the blood while removing carbon dioxide.

Lung cancer may spread to the lymph nodes or other tissues in the chest (including the other lung). In many cases, lung cancer may also spread to other organs of the body, such as the bones, brain, or liver.

Risk of lung cancer

Lung cancer is the second most common nonskin cancer death in the United States. The number of deaths due to lung cancer increased rapidly for several decades. Lung cancer death rates increased rapidly throughout most of the twentieth century, first in men and then women, reflecting increases in smoking prevalence. With decreases in smoking (which occurred first in men, then women), lung cancer death rates have been decreasing in men since the late 1980s and appear to be leveling off in women.

Anything that increases a person’s chance of developing a disease is called a risk factor. Some risk factors for lung cancer are as follows:

Tobacco: Tobacco use causes the vast majority of lung cancers in the United States. Some studies also suggest that environmental, or second-hand, tobacco smoke cause lung cancer.

Other Substances: Asbestos and radon have also been linked to lung cancer. These substances account for a far lower number of lung cancers than smoking.

Screening tests for lung cancer

Several studies have shown that routine screening for lung cancer using chest x-ray and/or testing sputum (mucus coughed up from the lungs) did not decrease the number of lung cancer deaths. The studies were not large enough, however, to detect possible small benefits. In a very large, long-term clinical trial the National Cancer Institute (NCI) is studying the value of yearly chest x-rays to screen for lung cancer.

A new technology is being tested for its effectiveness in lung cancer screening. A study has shown the low-dose helical computed tomography (LDCT) test to be more sensitive than other tests in screening for specific conditions related to lung cancer. The NCI is conducting a clinical trial to learn more about the harms, benefits, and effectiveness of LDCT in screening for lung cancer.

Changes to This Summary (06/10/2003)

The PDQ cancer information summaries are reviewed regularly and updated as new information becomes available. This section describes the latest changes made to this summary as of the date above.

Editorial changes were made to this summary.

To Learn More


For more information, U.S. residents may call the National Cancer Institute's (NCI's) Cancer Information Service toll-free at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237) Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Deaf and hard-of-hearing callers with TTY equipment may call 1-800-332-8615. The call is free and a trained Cancer Information Specialist is available to answer your questions.

Web sites and Organizations

The NCI's Web site provides online access to information on cancer, clinical trials, and other Web sites and organizations that offer support and resources for cancer patients and their families. There are also many other places where people can get materials and information about cancer treatment and services. Local hospitals may have information on local and regional agencies that offer information about finances, getting to and from treatment, receiving care at home, and dealing with problems associated with cancer treatment.


The NCI has booklets and other materials for patients, health professionals, and the public. These publications discuss types of cancer, methods of cancer treatment, coping with cancer, and clinical trials. Some publications provide information on tests for cancer, cancer causes and prevention, cancer statistics, and NCI research activities. NCI materials on these and other topics may be ordered online or printed directly from the NCI Publications Locator. These materials can also be ordered by telephone from the Cancer Information Service toll-free at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237), TTY at 1-800-332-8615.


The NCI's LiveHelp service, a program available on several of the Institute's Web sites, provides Internet users with the ability to chat online with an Information Specialist. The service is available from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Eastern time, Monday through Friday. Information Specialists can help Internet users find information on NCI Web sites and answer questions about cancer.


For more information from the NCI, please write to this address:

About PDQ

PDQ is a comprehensive cancer database available on

PDQ is the National Cancer Institute's (NCI's) comprehensive cancer information database. Most of the information contained in PDQ is available online at, the NCI's Web site. PDQ is provided as a service of the NCI. The NCI is part of the National Institutes of Health, the federal government's focal point for biomedical research.

PDQ contains cancer information summaries.

The PDQ database contains summaries of the latest published information on cancer prevention, detection, genetics, treatment, supportive care, and complementary and alternative medicine. Most summaries are available in two versions. The health professional versions provide detailed information written in technical language. The patient versions are written in easy-to-understand, nontechnical language. Both versions provide current and accurate cancer information.

The PDQ cancer information summaries are developed by cancer experts and reviewed regularly.

Editorial Boards made up of experts in oncology and related specialties are responsible for writing and maintaining the cancer information summaries. The summaries are reviewed regularly and changes are made as new information becomes available. The date on each summary ("Date Last Modified") indicates the time of the most recent change.

PDQ also contains information on clinical trials.

People who are at high risk for a certain type of cancer may want to take part in a clinical trial. A clinical trial is a study to answer a scientific question, such as whether a method of finding cancer earlier can help people to live longer. Trials are based on past studies and what has been learned in the laboratory. Each trial answers certain scientific questions in order to find new and better ways to help cancer patients and those who are at risk for cancer. During screening clinical trials, information is collected about screening methods, the risks involved, and how well they do or do not work. If a clinical trial shows that a new method is better than one currently being used, the new method may become "standard."

Listings of clinical trials are included in PDQ and are available online at Descriptions of the trials are available in health professional and patient versions. Many cancer doctors who take part in clinical trials are also listed in PDQ. For more information, call the Cancer Information Service 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237); TTY at 1-800-332-8615.

Physicians version: CDR0000062832
Date last modified: 2003-06-10

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Dr. G. Quade
This page was last modified on Friday, 19-Mar-2004 22:19:22 CET