A lung cancer screening may seem overwhelming — here are some suggested questions to ask to your doctor.

If you or a loved one has a lung cancer screening coming up, ask these important questions.

Are you a current or former smoker who’s thinking about getting a lung cancer screening? Maybe you have an appointment for a cancer test or lung biopsy scheduled, or you’re awaiting results of a lung cancer test.

At any of these stages, you likely have questions about your results, diagnosis and more.

Norton Cancer Institute lung screening patient navigator and nurse Connie Buckley, R.N., AE-C, is dedicated to coordinating your lung cancer screening, providing follow-up, answering your questions and scheduling any additional care you may need. Here are four common questions she receives from patients about lung cancer screenings.

Lung cancer prevention and detection

Should you or your loved one get a lung cancer screening?

Find out

Guidelines and risk factors for lung cancer screening

Lung cancer screening can’t prevent lung cancer, but it can detect the disease before symptoms appear. Often lung cancer patients don’t have symptoms until the cancer has advanced or even spread (metastasized).  Earlier detection means improved health outcomes.

RELATED: A low-dose CT scan could help you find lung cancer early

Norton Cancer Institute uses high-speed, low-dose CT scanning, which can detect even the tiniest lung nodule. The screening scan — which is painless and noninvasive and takes just a few minutes — is offered to individuals at high risk for developing lung cancer. Lung cancer screening is recommended for those who are at high risk due to cigarette smoking. You may be a candidate if you meet all the following criteria:

  • Ages 50 to 80
  • Are a current cigarette smoker or quit within the past 15 years
  • Cigarette smoking history of 20 pack-years (Multiply typical packs per day by number of years. For example, two packs per day for 10 years is 20 pack-years.)
  • Family history of lung cancer

Studies have shown that early diagnosis with screening tools like CT scans can reduce the risk of lung cancer death by up to 20%. If you are at higher risk for developing lung cancer, ask your doctor about an annual lung cancer screening.

What is the screening process?

You will begin the process by talking with your primary care provider to ensure you qualify for a  screening. Your primary care provider’s office then will order and schedule the lung cancer screening. After your screening, a board-certified radiologist will review your scan. If an abnormality is found, your physician may recommend you see one of the lung specialists with the Norton Cancer Institute Comprehensive Lung Center.

How long will it take to get my results?

Your physician or the lung screening navigator will give you the results of your scan, usually within five days. If you have an abnormal screening, you will be notified by phone, and immediate arrangements will be made for a doctor specializing in lung cancer treatment to meet with you. If you have not received your results after 10 days, please call your physician.

Lung cancer screening questions to ask your doctor

Being ready with questions to ask your oncologist (cancer specialist) can help you feel back in control after hearing the news of a cancer diagnosis.

Understanding your disease and how it’s treated is important, so don’t be shy about asking straightforward questions about your oncologist’s subspecialty, experience and access to clinical trials. Treating lung cancer takes time and many appointments — and you may not be able to drive yourself all the time — so understanding how convenient your oncologist can make your treatment is important.

To get started, here are some questions to ask your oncologist. Feel free to take notes when you speak with your health care provider, and if there is anything you don’t understand — stop the conversation and ask for an explanation.

If you are a smoker, the most effective way to reduce your lung cancer risk is to stop smoking. If you aren’t sure how to do that, talk to your doctor. You can ask:

  • Can you suggest ways to help me quit smoking?
  • What else can I do to lower my risk of lung cancer?

Other questions include:

  • Am I at risk for lung cancer?
  • Do you recommend that I get screened for lung cancer? Why or why not?
  • Should I have an annual screening for lung cancer?
  • What kind of screening will I have? How do I prepare?
  • Does the screening have any risks or side effects?
  • How long will it take to get the results?
  • If results show that I may have cancer, will I need more tests to be sure?

Should I get a second opinion?

Yes. Your oncologist won’t be offended. The goal is to get you the best care available, and multiple viewpoints can only help.

Also ask if your oncology provider holds “tumor boards” or multidisciplinary consultations. These are built-in processes where every cancer patient’s case is reviewed, analyzed, debated and discussed by numerous specialists. Similar to a second opinion, the result is a treatment plan that benefits from collaboration among a team of physicians and other providers.

How easily can I get an appointment, and how far away will it be?

Cancer disrupts your life and those closest to you. Getting an appointment — even the same day if you’ve been newly diagnosed — and setting up a treatment routine at a location that’s convenient for you and others who are helping you can make it easier.

What stage is the cancer?

Cancer can be categorized by stages to describe the size and how far, if at all, it has spread.

  • Stage 0 refers to cancer that hasn’t spread to nearby tissues and often is highly curable.
  • Stage 1 cancer is typically a small cancer that may be affecting nearby tissues, but hasn’t reached lymph nodes or other parts of the body.
  • Stage 2 cancer is larger or may have spread to a few nearby lymph nodes.
  • Stage 3 cancers are larger tumors that have spread more extensively.
  • Stage 4 refers to cancers that have spread to other parts of the body.

What kind of cancer do I have, exactly where is it located and how much experience do you have treating it?

Advancements in cancer treatment have spawned a number of subspecialties both in the types of cancer and the treatment approaches, including radiation and biopsy procedures.

Understanding what type of cancer you have, where it is in your body and your oncologist’s experience treating your type of cancer specifically is important.

Types of lung cancer include small cell lung cancer and non-small cell lung cancer.

Has the cancer spread from where it started?

You may have heard the word “metastasize” before. This refers to cancer spreading from its initial location to other parts of the body. The first cancer is considered the “primary” cancer. Places affected by its spread are “secondary” cancers.

Should I think about taking part in a clinical trial? Do you offer any for my diagnosis?

Clinical trials give patients the opportunity to take part in experimental treatments. A cancer program with a history of conducting clinical trials is also a sign of deep experience with the newest Food and Drug Administration-approved treatment options.

What support services do you offer?

Cancer doesn’t just happen to you or one part of your body. If affects how you feel, your outlook and that of those close to you. It’s often referred to as a journey, and it’s a journey that requires support.

Some oncology providers devote nurses to helping patients find their way through a new world of complex insurance filings, new treatment options and simply arranging transportation to and from doctors’ appointments.

What are my treatment options?

Not all oncology providers have access to the same treatments. Whether your care plan includes surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy or other approaches to treating cancer, you should ask about your treatment options all along the treatment journey.

What’s the goal of my treatment?

Making sure you and your oncologist share the same goal for your treatment will make for a smoother course of action and a freer exchange of information about your care.

What would I do if I have an issue after hours?

Ask about extended hours and same-day appointments to get treatment for side effects of your cancer treatment.

Norton Cancer Institute Prompt Care Clinic locations downtown and in St. Matthews are open until 8 p.m. on weekdays to get treatment quickly without an emergency department visit.

Will my insurance cover the cost of the screening?

Annual follow-up lung low dose CT scans are covered by Medicare and private insurance companies for people who meet the following criteria: 

  • Ages 55 to 77 
  • Current smokers or former smokers who quit less than 15 years ago
  • Have no symptoms of lung cancer 
  • Have a 30 pack-year history of smoking 

Check with your insurance company if you have any questions about your benefit plan.

Related content: Program provides comprehensive lung cancer treatment  

Lung cancer research has come a long way in the last five decades. Lung cancer mortality has dropped, and people are living longer, healthier lives with advancements in screening tests and treatments, as well as behavioral and lifestyle changes. Norton Cancer Institute Comprehensive Lung Center will be with you every step of the way, from screening to treatment and beyond.

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