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Healthy Tips

Lung Cancer Screening Saves Lives

Program for Those at High Risk

Northwestern Medicine is helping those at highest risk of lung cancer take control of their health with a potentially lifesaving screening program. Lung cancer is the third-most common cancer and the leading cause of cancer death in both men and women in the United States.

“Five-year survival rates are very poor,” explains Timothy J. McGee, DO, Northwestern Medicine Regional Medical Group pulmonologist. “But it’s better if you have a lower stage at diagnosis.”

To catch disease early, Northwestern Medicine offers a low-dose CT lung cancer screening program that uses a low dose of radiation (at least five times less than a regular chest CT) to capture images of the lungs. Research has shown a 20 percent reduction in mortality for patients who received annual screening with a low-dose chest CT compared to those who received a chest X-ray.

With annual screening, small nodules can be watched over time and removed if they begin to show signs of changing. This allows for a minimally invasive procedure rather than a more radical form of treatment. If the CT reveals concerning nodules, patients are directed to a specialist for follow-up.

“The power of the program is that we’re capturing those who are at risk of having a malignancy and trying to get them in for appropriate follow-up if needed,” says Dr. McGee.

The program is designed for patients who are at a higher risk of developing lung cancer. To be accepted, you must meet the following requirements:

  • Be 55 to 80 years old (maximum age 77 for Medicare coverage)
  • Be a current smoker or a former smoker who has quit within the past 15 years
  • Have a 30 pack-year history of smoking (one pack-year is the equivalent of smoking one pack per day for one year)
  • Have no signs or symptoms of lung cancer
  • Have not received any chest imaging within the past year 

For those who are eligible, the program is usually covered by most insurance plans and Medicare.

Lung cancer screening is available in multiple locations across Northwestern Medicine with a physician referral. To learn more about options in Chicago’s west suburbs and Greater DeKalb County, visit westlungscreening.nm.org. To learn about options in downtown Chicago and the northern suburbs, and about pulmonary care at Northwestern Medicine, visit Pulmonary and Respiratory Care.

Timothy J. McGee, DO
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