The goal of low-dose CT lung screenings is to save lives. Without a low-dose CT lung screening, lung cancer is usually not found until a person develops symptoms. At that time, lung cancer is much harder to treat.
Low-dose CT lung screening is recommended for the following groups of people who are at high risk for lung cancer. Those who have symptoms of a lung condition at the time of screening, such as a new cough or shortness of breath, are not eligible.
People ages 55−77 who have smoked at least an average of 1 pack a day for 30 years. This includes people who still smoke or have quit within the past 15 years.
Certain symptoms can be a sign that you have a condition in your lungs that should be evaluated and treated, if necessary, by your health care provider. These symptoms include fever, chest pain, a new or changing cough, shortness of breath that you have never felt before, coughing up blood, or unexplained weight loss. Having any of these symptoms can greatly affect the results of lung screening and may actually delay the treatment you might need.
It depends. In some cases, low-dose CT lung screening will not be appropriate, such as when your doctor is already following your cancer with CT scan studies. Your doctor will help determine if low-dose CT lung screening is right for you.
It is recommended you receive a yearly low-dose CT lung screening until the age of 77 if you are identified as high risk for lung cancer. Please contact your health care provider to obtain an order.
Studies have shown that low-dose CT lung screening can lower the risk of death from lung cancer by 20% in people who are at high risk.
The low-dose CT lung screening is one of the easiest screening exams you can have. No medications are given, and no needles are used. You can eat before and after the exam. You do not even need to get changed as long as the clothing on your chest does not contain metal. However, you must be able to hold your breath for at least 6 seconds while the chest scan is being taken.
There are several risks and limitations of low-dose CT lung screening. We want to make sure that we have done a good job explaining these to you, so please let us know if you have any questions. Your health care provider who ordered the screening may want to talk with you more about this.
- Radiation exposure: low-dose CT lung screening uses radiation to create images of your lung. Radiation can increase a person’s risk of cancer. By using special techniques, the amount of radiation in low-dose CT lung screening is small—about the same amount a person would receive from a screening mammogram. Further, your doctor has determined that the benefits of the screening outweigh the risks of being exposed to the small amount of radiation from this exam.
- False negatives: No test, including low-dose CT lung screening, is perfect. It is possible that you may have a medical condition, including lung cancer, that is not found during your exam. This is called a false negative.
- False positives/additional testing: Low-dose CT lung screening very often finds something in the lung that could be cancer but in fact is not. This is called a false positive. False positive tests often cause anxiety. In order to make sure these findings are not cancer, you may need to have more tests. These tests will be performed only if you give us permission. Occasionally, patients need a procedure, such as a biopsy, that can have potential side effects.
- Findings not related to lung cancer: Your low-dose CT lung screening exam also captures images of areas of your body next to your lungs. In a small percentage of cases (5 percent−10 percent), the CT scan will show an abnormal finding in one of these areas, such as your kidneys, adrenal glands, liver or thyroid. This finding may not be serious; however, you may need to be examined further. Your health care provider who ordered your exam can help determine what, if any, additional testing you may need.
The low-dose CT lung screening is billed to your insurance and you must meet the eligibility requirements above. This is not a cash pay screening. Any additional testing you may need, based on the results from the screening, will also be billed to your insurance. Most insurance companies will cover the cost of these additional tests.
About 1 out of 4 low-dose CT lung screening exams will find something in the lung that may require additional imaging or evaluation. Most of the time these findings are lung nodules.
Lung nodules are very small collections of tissue in the lung. These nodules are very common, and the vast majority— more than 97 percent—are not cancer (benign). Most are normal lymph nodes or small areas of scarring from past infections. Less commonly, lung nodules are cancer. If a small lung nodule is found to be cancer, the cancer can be cured more than 90 percent of the time. That is why we are screening you.
To distinguish the large number of benign (noncancerous) nodules from the few nodules that are in fact cancer, we may need to get more images before your next yearly screening exam. If the nodule has suspicious features (for example, it is large, has an odd shape or grows over time), we will refer you to a specialist for further testing.
You will receive the results of your exam within 2 weeks. If you do not hear from us within 2 weeks, please be sure to call us at 815.759.4262.
The best way to prevent lung cancer is to stop smoking. For help on quitting smoking, Northwestern Medicine in the northwest suburbs and the American Cancer Society partner to offer the Freshstart Tobacco Cessation program. This proven program is offered at Northwestern Medicine Crystal Lake Health and Fitness Center. For more information or to register, call 877.236.8347. To speak with a counselor immediately, call 1.866.QUIT.YES.