More women die each year from lung cancer than from breast, ovarian, and cervical cancers combined. And women who smoke are more likely than men to develop lung cancer. Even women who've never smoked are at greater risk than their male counterparts. Screening for lung cancer hasn't yet become common, but recent studies suggest that a test called spiral computed tomography can detect lung cancer when it is still curable. If you're considering having a screening test, the March 2007 issue of Harvard Women's Health Watch suggests you weigh the following factors.
The benefit. Women have more to gain from screening than men, in part because they tend to develop lung cancer earlier in their smoking lives. Also, when women develop lung cancer, they're more likely than men to have slow-growing tumors that rarely show symptoms in the early stages.
The risk. One of the problems inherent in any screening test is that the test may suggest there is cancer when there really is none. A lung biopsy, the next step in confirming a diagnosis, is an invasive procedure and carries its own dangers.
Your personal lung cancer risk. If you're a smoker, your risk depends on the number of cigarettes you've smoked. The earlier you quit, the lower your risk. Whether you smoke or not, lifetime exposure to secondhand smoke, asbestos, radon, and other environmental carcinogens is also important. Heredity is another factor.
The ramifications: There aren't any specific guidelines for follow-up if a screening test suggests lung cancer, so you and your clinician will need to share responsibility for decisions.