CT Lung Cancer Screening: Frequently Asked Questions – Part 1

Lung cancer is the leading cancer killer of men & women in every ethnic group.  Low-Dose CT Lung Cancer Screening can provide early lung cancer detection, prompt earlier treatment and improve outcomes in high risk patients.

Q: What is “Low Dose CT Lung Cancer Screening”?
A: Lung cancer screening exams are used to find disease before patients experience symptoms.  The goal of screening is to detect diseases (like cancer) at their earliest and most treatable stage. Computed Tomography (CT or “CAT Scan”) is a specialized x-ray exam that uses computer technology to produce multiple images of the body.

These images are more detailed than routine chest x-rays and can detect small changes in the lungs that can be early signs of cancer.  These changes can be seen using a lower radiation dose than a CT scan done of the chest done for a diagnosed medical problem.  Typically, the radiation dose for CT Lung Cancer Screening is 90% less than a routine CT of the chest. People at high risk of developing lung cancer can have a Low-Dose CT (LDCT) Scan of the lungs in an effort to find cancer at an early stage.

Q:  How is the exam performed?
A:  This CT scan is very quick and easy! It is best to wear a comfortable shirt without any metal on it, you will be asked to change if your shirt has metal buttons, metal designs, or a zipper.  These will show up on your images. During the scan, you will need to lie flat on your back with your arms raised beside your head for a short time (usually less than 5 minutes).

The scan itself takes less than a minute; you may be on the CT exam table for up to 5 minutes as your CT Technologist puts your information into the scanner’s computer and sets up your exam. You will be asked to hold your breath while the images are being done (10 seconds or less).  The CT scanner is an “open” circular machine.  The exam table you will be laying on will go in and out of this open circle while images are being acquired. There is no injection or medication needed for CT Lung Screening (CTLS).  You may eat, drink, and take your medication as directed on the day of your scan.

Q: What are risk factors for developing lung cancer?
A: Risks for developing lung cancer include the following:

  • Tobacco use
  • Second hand smoke exposure
  • Prolonged contact with cancer causing agents (including asbestos, arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, chromium, diesel fumes, nickel, radon, silica and uranium)
  • Parent, sibling, or child diagnosed with lung cancer
  • Personal history of other lung diseases such as pulmonary fibrosis and emphysema

Q: Are there certain criteria I need to meet in order to have CT Lung Cancer Screening?
Group 1:
 Individuals 55-77 years of age
 Smoking history equal to or greater than 30 pack years*
 Current or former smoker that has quit within the last 15 years

Group 2:
 Individuals 50 years of age or older
 Smoking history equal to at least 20 pack years*
 Current or former smoker that has quit within the last 15 years
 One more risk factor other than second hand smoke exposure

A:  Yes. Your health care provider will help you assess your risk using the guidelines below and your other medical history. You must meet all of the criteria in Group 1 or Group 2 to be eligible for Low-Dose CT Lung Screening.  An order from your health care provider is required.

*(packs per day X years smoked = pack years)

Q:  What if I have symptoms that I am worried about?
A:  If you are having any symptoms that concern you, it may be necessary for you to have a different type of evaluation (not a screening).  Please make an appointment with your primary care provider.

Individuals that have signs and symptoms of a lung infection; or have recently been diagnosed with pneumonia or bronchitis should not have a CT Lung Screening until they no longer have the infection.

If your symptoms become emergent in nature: please call 911, or go to the nearest Emergency Room.