Lung Cancer Prevention and Screening

Know the risk factors for lung cancer

A smiling mature man having coffee with a friend represents the importance of lung cancer screening and prevention.

Know the risk factors for lung cancer

Lung cancers caused by smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke may be prevented by not smoking or by avoiding secondhand smoke.

But not all lung cancers are related to smoking. Some people who have the disease have none of the known lung cancer risk factors, so researchers don’t know if these can be prevented.

Continue reading to learn about known lung cancer risks and how to reduce your chances of getting the disease.

Causes, risks and family history

Lung cancer kills more men and women in the United States than any other type of cancer. Not all lung cancer causes are known, but Scripps Cancer Center encourages you to learn about potential causes and take steps to reduce known risk factors.

Lung cancer prevention

There is no known way to completely prevent lung cancer, but you can help protect your lungs by reducing your risk factors and increasing protective factors. If you have a personal or family history of lung cancer, ask your doctor about how to lower your risk.

Benefits of early detection

When lung cancer is found early, the likelihood of successful treatment may be greater. Found early, lung cancer has a significantly higher cure rate. But because lung cancer often doesn’t cause symptoms until it has spread — or symptoms are mistaken for a viral infection or “smoker’s cough” — it can be difficult to detect. Only 16% of lung cancer cases are found at an early stage.

Preventive lung screening

In an effort to improve early diagnosis for people who are at increased risk for developing lung cancer, Scripps Cancer Center offers a comprehensive, multidisciplinary lung screening program. The Jana Oliphant Hackett Lung Cancer Screening Program — named to honor the legacy of Jana Oliphant Hackett, a lifelong athlete who never smoked and passed away from advanced lung cancer in 2021 — is open to people who meet current guidelines for annual lung screening. 

At this time, preventive screening for lung cancer is recommended only for people who are at high risk of developing the disease. According to the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), you are a candidate for preventive lung cancer screening if you are an adult age 50 or older who meets the following criteria:

  • Have a 20 pack-year smoking history
  • Are currently a smoker or have quit in the past 15 years

Note: A 20 pack-year smoking history equals smoking an average of one pack of cigarettes per day for 20 years.

The program addresses a significant unmet need to get more people screened with low-dose CT scans. Less than 10% of patients who were eligible for lung cancer screening under the previous USPSTF guidelines were screened in the United States in 2018. According to the American Cancer Society, the five-year survival rate for the most common form of lung cancer (non-small cell lung cancer) is significantly higher when diagnosed at an early, localized stage, as opposed to a later, distant stage.

The new lung cancer screening program includes a comprehensive array of services, such as tobacco cessation education and coaching, as well as a shared decision-making visit to discuss risks and benefits of imaging and to establish a regular screening schedule. It also includes a patient registry database to ensure patients are referred to annual screenings as indicated, and a nodule management database for ongoing monitoring and analysis.

Screening program participants who are diagnosed with an abnormality will have access to a multidisciplinary team of Scripps specialists, such as radiologists, pulmonologists and thoracic surgeons, who will be involved in all aspects of care.