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This information was reviewed and approved by Debra S. Dyer, MD, FACR (9/1/2021).

Can Lung Cancer Be Prevented?

The best thing you can do to prevent lung cancer is to stop smoking. National Jewish Health can help you stop smoking by working with the QuitLine at 1.800.QUIT.NOW. Lung cancer can also be prevented by avoiding the environmental exposures mentioned in causes of lung cancer. In spite of that, some individuals still will develop lung cancer. In that case, our best option is to find the cancer early in order to cure it. Early lung cancer detection is done by lung cancer screening.


Lung Cancer CT Screening Program

Lung cancer screening can identify a lung cancer early when it is small and curable. Lung cancer screening is done by a CT scan. The vast majority of people undergoing a screening CT will not have cancer. The CT may show an abnormality that subsequently proves to be benign, as benign nodules are common. This is a false-positive test that can lead to anxiety and other diagnostic procedures that may not be needed.

Screening looks for a disease before a person has symptoms. Screening is recommended if a person is at high risk for disease, but has not developed symptoms of the disease.

People at high risk to develop lung cancer are defined by their age and smoking history. The results of a large study in the US, the National Lung Screening Trial (NLST), showed that screening high-risk individuals with yearly low-dose CT scans can detect lung cancer early and significantly improve lung cancer survival. The ability to find lung cancer early, in high-risk patients, by CT scanning has also been proven in a large study performed in Europe, the NELSON study. You can read a paper describing the study on the Radiology website.

Lung cancer screening involves an evaluation to see if you fall in the high-risk category and will benefit from being screened; smoking cessation if you are smoking; and a chest CT scan. The Lung Cancer Screening Program at National Jewish Health focuses on early detection of lung cancer. Because a screening CT identifies suspicious lesions in high-risk individuals before there are any symptoms, lung cancer can be detected earlier when it is more easily treated. National Jewish Health is recognized as a leading Lung Cancer Screening Program by respected lung cancer organizations and the State of Colorado, including:

  • Screening Center of Excellence by the Lung Cancer Alliance

  • Designated Lung Cancer Screening Center by the American College of Radiology

  • Certified Healing Arts Screening Program by the State of Colorado

Our radiologists have special expertise in chest and lung imaging, including lung cancer screening. 


Who should consider participating in the Lung Cancer CT Screening Program?

If you have all three of these risks, you fall into the category of high risk for developing lung cancer and experts recommend lung cancer screening:

  • You are 50 to 80 years old.

  • You are a current or former smoker, with at least 20 pack-years of smoking.

    • Pack-years are determined by the number of cigarette packs smoked per day multiplied by the number of years you smoked.

  • You are a former smoker, who quit within the past 15 years.

When the CT scan finds a lung nodule, the nodule needs to be examined and watched closely, because it may or may not be a cancer, or could become cancerous in the future and need to be treated. The Lung Cancer Screening Program at National Jewish Health helps patients at risk for lung cancer monitor their screening results along with their primary care doctor, and start treatment at the earliest possible time.

Many nationally respected organizations recommend lung cancer screening CT scans for high-risk individuals.

  • American Cancer Society

  • American College of Chest Physicians

  • American Society of Clinical Oncology

  • National Comprehensive Cancer Network

  • American Thoracic Society

  • American Lung Association

  • American Association of Thoracic Surgery

  • United States Preventive Services Task Force

  • American Medical Association


For more than 100 years, National Jewish Health has been committed to finding new treatments and cures for diseases. Search our clinical trials.