An at-home cancer screening test may help you catch lung cancer early. But experts don’t recommend them as studies have yet to show their reliability. Only clinical tests, such as imaging and a biopsy, can help confirm a lung cancer diagnosis.
Catching lung cancer early can improve your outlook. At-home tests might identify signals that cancer cells produce even before symptoms appear.
But because there’s a chance you might misinterpret the results, it’s important to follow up with a doctor or healthcare professional to determine whether further testing is needed. A doctor can conduct imaging tests or a biopsy to diagnose lung cancer.
While at-home tests may offer convenience, research is ongoing as to their accuracy and benefit. Many healthcare professionals are still concerned about the risks of at-home tests and don’t recommend them.
Keep reading to learn more about at-home lung cancer testing, including how it works, how accurate it is, the pros and cons, and how it compares with how doctors test for lung cancer.
While there are several home tests you can use to screen for some cancers, such as colon cancer, the same options aren’t available for lung cancer. While similar tests are in development, at this time, only a doctor can run tests to determine if you have lung cancer.
The only current option for an at-home lung cancer screening test is a
You can request test kits online, but you may still need to visit a clinic to take a blood sample. If you receive an abnormal test result, the testing company will refer you to a doctor for a CT scan.
While several tests are in the works, the Galleri test has been through some clinical trials. It’s a liquid biopsy test that can identify signals in the blood present in many cancers. It can also predict where in the body the signal is located.
The Galleri test is still undergoing clinical trials.
Who should get screening for lung cancer?
Screening means testing for a disease when there are no symptoms or history of that disease.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends annual screening for lung cancer if you:
- have a 20 pack-year or more smoking history (for example, smoking one pack a day for 20 years or two packs a day for 10 years), and
- currently smoke or quit within the last 15 years, and
- are between 50 and 80 years old
At-home tests offer greater convenience and may enable some people to find lung cancer earlier than they otherwise would’ve. Still, they come with some risks.
While doctors may order some MCEDs, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
A false positive result occurs when a test identifies cancer, but no cancer is present. This can lead to further testing and increases the risk of side effects from those tests.
According to 2021 research, only 44.4% of people with a positive result end up with a cancer diagnosis. But supporters of MCEDs say that these rates are better than rates for traditional screening tests.
Because MCEDs may find small traces of cancer markers, they could lead to the diagnosis of a condition that may never cause symptoms. This could lead to unnecessary treatment and side effects.
Pros of at-home lung cancer screening
- more convenient
- may detect lung cancer earlier
- may also detect cancers for which there are no screening tests (regarding MCEDs)
Cons of at-home lung cancer screening
- may lead to unnecessary further testing
- may lead to overdiagnosis and overtreatment
- not likely to be covered by insurance
A doctor will first ask about your medical history and symptoms and conduct a physical exam.
Symptoms of lung cancer include:
- sudden, persistent cough
- shortness of breath
- chest pain
- excessive sweating
If you’re between 50 and 80 years old, have a history of heavy smoking, and smoke now or within the past 15 years, a doctor might recommend you get a lung cancer screening test, even if you don’t have any symptoms.
Imaging tests create pictures of the inside of your body. They may be used to both diagnose and screen for lung cancer.
The most common screening tool for lung cancer is low dose computed tomography scan (LDCT). But other imaging tests for diagnosis may include:
A doctor will send a sample of mucus coughed up from your lungs (sputum) to a lab to check for cancer cells.
A doctor can remove some of the fluid collected around your lungs. They’ll insert a needle between your ribs to drain the fluid and then send it to a lab to check for cancer cells.
During a biopsy, a doctor guides a needle into a mass or tumor to obtain a small tissue sample. They then send the sample to a lab for further testing.
The presence of gene mutations could guide your treatment. Examples of affected genes include:
- EGFR (HER1)
A doctor will review the type and stage of your lung cancer and discuss treatment options. You may also want to get a second opinion at this time.
A doctor will also run more tests, such as genetic testing, to help understand which treatment options will likely work the best to treat your cancer.
Resources for support
You’ll likely feel a range of emotions following a lung cancer diagnosis. Support from friends, family, and support groups can help you manage these emotions. The following resources can help as well.
Can a finger test let you know if you have lung cancer?
When you press your fingernails together, you should be able to see a diamond-shaped gap between them. If you don’t see this gap, you could have finger clubbing, which could be a
Finger clubbing could be a symptom of other conditions, too. So, it’s important to meet with a doctor for further testing.
How much do at-home lung cancer tests cost?
Some MCEDs can cost as little as $189. The Galleri test costs $949.
Insurance doesn’t usually cover these tests, but you may be able to use a health savings account or flexible spending account to pay for a test.
Will insurance or Medicare cover the cost of lung cancer screening?
Most insurance plans and Medicare help pay for LDCT scans if they’re recommended based on your age and smoking history.
Though at-home tests are available, they can’t rule in or rule out lung cancer on their own. Review the results with a doctor, who can use them together with other tests, such as imaging and a biopsy, to help make a diagnosis. Only a doctor can interpret the results of these tests and recommend next steps.