Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. Medical studies have shown that because of their exposure to asbestos, diesel exhaust and other carcinogens, railroad workers are at an increased risk of developing the deadly disease. Each year approximately 200,000 Americans are diagnosed with lung cancer and over 150,000 people die from the disease. That’s more people than die of all the other major cancers in this country combined. Those that do survive are patients whose disease is in a very early stage at diagnosis. Lung cancer often has no symptoms until it has spread. At that point, treatment is difficult and the chances of a cure are very small. Caught early, however, lung cancer can be treated and often cured. Doctors have been examining whether screening for lung cancer can reduce the rate of death from that cancer.

What is lung cancer screening? When a patient is screened for lung cancer, it means that doctors look for signs of cancer before the person has symptoms of the disease. Individuals who are considered at-risk for lung cancer may benefit from active monitoring for the development of lung cancer. However, the screening process does have its own risks. Together with their treating doctors, those at risk for lung cancer should make the decision of whether lung cancer screening is a good choice for their own situation.

Doctors and scientists are also studying what method of screening for lung cancer is the most effective way to catch the disease in its early stages. Recently, the National Cancer Institute studied lung cancer early-detection in a trial called the National Lung Screening Trial (NLST). The results are striking: The group of high-risk participants who were screened with a low-dose spiral CT scan had 20.3% fewer deaths from lung cancer than the other group.

Lung cancer screening centers are growing around the country. However, these programs may not be covered by typical insurance. University Hospital’s Seidman Cancer Center in in Cleveland, Ohio now offers a complete lung cancer screening program at a cost of only $99.00. Roswell Park, in Buffalo, New York also offers a comprehensive lung cancer screening program. To be considered for the program, individuals must be over fifty years of age and have risk factors for lung cancer, including a history of smoking, chronic lung disease or COPD, a previous history of lung cancer and/or occupationally related asbestos disease.

If you are at a higher risk of lung cancer because of your history of smoking, exposure to asbestos or diesel exhaust, check with your doctor to find out if lung cancer screening is the right choice for you.