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Why is it difficult to detect lung cancer in its earliest stages?

It’s difficult to detect lung cancer in its earliest stages because symptoms don’t appear until the disease is already in an advanced, incurable stage. Even when symptoms of lung cancer do appear, many people may mistake them for other problems, such as an infection or long-term effects from smoking. This may delay the diagnosis.

Dr. Neal Chuang, MD
Cardiothoracic Surgeon

It’s difficult to detect lung cancer in its earliest stage because most people won't have any symptoms. Once symptoms develop, the cancer is usually advanced and no longer curable. The use of low-dose computed tomography (CT) scans of the chest for screening has allowed doctors to detect lung cancers earlier while minimizing radiation exposure to the person.

It is difficult to detect lung cancer in its earliest stages because early stage lung cancer has no symptoms and is not detected with a chest x-ray. Early stage lung cancer is best detected with low dose screening computed tomography (CT).

Early-stage lung cancer is a dime-sized growth in the center of the lung. The lung doesn’t have pain receptors, so you can’t feel it. Most often, a chest x-ray won’t show early-stage lung cancer. That’s why we see such a substantial benefit in CT scans for lung cancer, because if you detect it early, lung cancer is curable. The majority of people have no symptoms until their lung cancer is at an advanced stage.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.