A lung CT (computed tomography) scan creates detailed pictures of the structures in your chest, such as your lungs. A lung CT scan provides more detailed information than conventional X-rays making it possible to diagnose & manage lung cancer earlier & more effectively. This blog explains what lung CT is and answers some common questions you may be asking as well. If you have more questions, please post them in the comments below and we will respond gladly.
Computed Tomography, commonly known as CT or CAT scanning, is a non-invasive diagnostic tool. CT uses a specialized form of X-ray, coupled with computer technology, to produce cross-sectional images (slices) of soft tissue, organs, bone and blood vessels in any area of the body. CT lung cancer screening has revolutionized medical imaging by providing more detailed information than conventional X-rays and, ultimately, offering better care for patients.
Imaging methods to examine the lungs include chest X-ray, low-radiation-dose chest Computed Tomography (CT) and standard-radiation-dose chest CT. Low-radiation-dose CT is appropriate for cancer screening because it has been demonstrated to be more sensitive than X-ray in detecting cancer, with less radiation exposure than standard chest CT.
CT technology is used to detect pulmonary nodules, collections of abnormal tissue in the lungs that may be early manifestations of lung cancer. These nodules are often detectable by CT before physical symptoms of lung cancer develop. Early detection of pulmonary nodules through CT screenings has been shown to improve survival compared with patients not undergoing lung CT scan.
Many people have pulmonary nodules, but not all are cancerous. In fact, most nodules are caused by scar tissue from a prior lung infection and are not cancerous. Computed Tomography (CT) Screening frequently detects small nodules that are later determined to be non-cancerous. If you have benign nodules, you’ll be asked to return for a CT screening yearly for one or two years to make sure they don’t grow. If a nodule is concerning for cancer, further diagnostic testing will be recommended.
Common Lung CT Screening Questions
Why Is CT Used?
CT scans are used to check the size and structure of an organ or other soft tissue and determine if it’s infected, solid or filled with fluid. The scans are used to diagnose tumors, cancers, spinal injuries, heart disease, vascular conditions, brain disorders and various other abnormalities within the body. CT scans also are used to rapidly diagnose traumatic injuries and to guide a number of minimally invasive procedures such as needle biopsies, catheter placement, fluid drainage and duct and vessel stenting.
How Does CT Work?
CT uses X-rays to detect and record the amount of radiation absorbed by different tissues. During a CT scan, an X-ray tube focuses a precise beam of energy on a section of the body. A computer analyzes the readings from X-rays taken at thousands of different points and converts the information into images radiologists and other doctors use to analyze internal organs and tissue.
Is CT Safe?
Although there’s no conclusive evidence that radiation from diagnostic X-rays causes cancer, some studies of large populations exposed to radiation from other sources have demonstrated slight increases in cancer risk. However, smokers have a much greater risk of developing lung cancer. The chance of developing lung cancer in one’s lifetime is approximately one in 13 for males and one in 16 for females (combined smokers and non-smokers). The risk of developing lung cancer due to a single CT scan of the chest is estimated to be one in 10,000. Because the risk of developing lung cancer is much greater than the added risk from a CT scan, and smoking increases the risk of lung cancer, we feel the benefits of CT screening for lung cancer in patients with a significant history of smoking outweigh the risks of radiation exposure. The radiation dose for CT lung screening is considered “low-dose” because the radiation exposure is less than a CT scan of the chest that’s done for a diagnosed medical problem.
Please note: a physician’s order is required for the Lung CT Scan. If you do not have this information, please make an appointment with your primary care doctor first. If you do not have a primary care doctor, please call 404-778-7777 and a representative will be happy to match you with an Emory provider.