Smoking carries significant and well-documented health risks, but kicking the habit and taking steps to improve your health is not always easy. This is especially true for long-time smokers. Fortunately, the advanced lung cancer screening and nicotine cessation support programs at UT Southwestern will make reducing your lung cancer risk one New Year’s resolution you can – and should – actually keep this year.
A test that’s saving lives
Patients whose cancers are detected and treated early have better long-term survival rates than patients whose cancers aren’t found until symptoms appear. Until recently, however, there wasn’t an effective screening test for early detection of lung cancer. The traditional technique, standard chest X-ray, doesn’t detect cancer early enough to reduce the death rate from lung cancer.
Fortunately, there is now a lung cancer screening test helping save lives: low-dose computed tomography (aka CT scan or CAT scan).
Some of my patients were initially reluctant to have a CT screening. Their attitude was fatalistic: “If I already have lung cancer, I’m going to die anyway, so there’s nothing I can do about it.” But this mindset ignores the possibility that, if detected early enough, lung cancer isn’t necessarily a death sentence.
A National Lung Screening Trial found that people ages 55 to 74 with a history of heavy smoking are 20 percent less likely to die from lung cancer if they’re screened with a low-dose CT scan than if they’re screened using a standard chest X-ray. By detecting cancer earlier, low-dose CT screening allows for more successful treatment and reduces mortality.
Covered by insurance
Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), cancer screenings are considered preventive services. Therefore, all ACA-compliant health plans have to cover lung cancer screenings, and this service must be offered with no out-of-pocket costs to the patient. In other words, you don’t have to pay a co-pay or meet your deductible before the CT screening is covered.
Short- and long-term benefits
Quitting smoking is the most important thing you can do to improve your health. Some of the health benefits start within a few hours of your last cigarette: Your heart rate and blood pressure — both abnormally high when smoking — begin to drop to normal. Carbon monoxide begins to decrease, improving your blood’s ability to carry oxygen.
Within a few years of smoking cessation, you’ll have lower risks of cancer, heart disease, COPD, and other chronic diseases than if you’d continued smoking. Studies have shown people who stop smoking, regardless of their age, are less likely to die from smoking-related illnesses than people who keep smoking.
Smokers who quit before age 40 reduce their chance of dying prematurely from smoking-related diseases by about 90 percent and those who quit by age 45 to 54 reduce their chance of dying prematurely by about two-thirds.
Next steps to quit smoking and reduce your risk for lung cancer
Quitting smoking is tough. Many former smokers have made several unsuccessful attempts to stop before they kicked the habit for good. UTSW has a comprehensive tobacco cessation program with the resources necessary to help you stop smoking – and stay stopped. For example, the program offers counseling for people who need to find new ways to cope with stress.
You can schedule a CT screening at our Plano, Richardson, or Fort Worth screening centers as well as at our main campus in Dallas. Each center offers free parking, a quick screening experience, and the same expertise provided by the staff at the Dallas location. Visit our website to learn more about UT Southwestern's comprehensive lung cancer screening program.
If you’ve been thinking about stopping smoking for good, let 2017 be the year you finally stick with it. Add CT screening for lung cancer to your list of New Year’s resolutions as well, and then follow through by making an appointment.