Lung Cancer Screening (PDQ®): Screening - Patient Information [NCI] - Risks of Lung Cancer Screening
Screening tests have risks.
Decisions about screening tests can be difficult. Not all screening tests are helpful and most have risks. Before having any screening test, you may want to discuss the test with your doctor. It is important to know the risks of the test and whether it has been proven to reduce the risk of dying from cancer.
In its early stages, lung cancer normally has no symptoms. When symptoms start to appear, they are usually caused by blocked breathing passages or the spread of cancer further into the lung, surrounding structures, other parts of the body.
Lung cancer symptoms may include:
Chronic, hacking, raspy coughing, sometimes with blood-streaked mucus
Recurring respiratory infections, including bronchitis or pneumonia
Increasing shortness of breath, wheezing, persistent chest pain
The risks of lung cancer screening tests include the following:
Finding lung cancer may not improve health or help you live longer.
Screening may not improve your health or help you live longer if you have lung cancer that has already spread to other places in your body.
Some cancers never cause symptoms or become life-threatening, but if found by a screening test, the cancer may be treated. It is not known if treatment of these cancers would help you live longer than if no treatment were given, and treatments for cancer may have serious side effects. Harms of treatment may happen more often in people who have medical problems caused by heavy or long-term smoking.
False-negative test results can occur.
Screening test results may appear to be normal even though lung cancer is present. A person who receives a false-negative test result (one that shows there is no cancer when there really is) may delay seeking medical care even if there are symptoms.
False-positive test results can occur.
Screening test results may appear to be abnormal even though no cancer is present. A false-positive test result (one that shows there is cancer when there really isn't) can cause anxiety and is usually followed by more tests (such as biopsy), which also have risks. A biopsy to diagnose lung cancer can cause part of the lung to collapse. Sometimes surgery is needed to reinflate the lung. Harms of diagnostic tests may happen more often in patients who have medical problems caused by heavy or long-term smoking.