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Home > Patient & Family Resources > Health Library > Lung Cancer Screening: Low-Dose CT Scan
Screening tests help your doctor look for a problem before you have symptoms. Lung cancer screening is a way to find some lung cancers early, when a cure is more likely and when cancer is more treatable.
If your doctor recommends lung cancer screening, you'll have a low-dose CT scan of your chest once a year. A special scanner called a spiral CT makes circular movements around your body. This doughnut-shaped machine sends low-dose X-rays, or radiation, through your chest to make detailed pictures. A low-dose CT uses much less radiation than a regular-dose CT scan. A doctor looks at the pictures of your lungs for growths, called nodules, that could be cancer.
Most people don't need routine lung cancer screening. It's only recommended for people age 55 and older who are, or were, heavy smokers with a smoking history of at least 30 pack years. A pack year is a way doctors measure how much you have smoked.
To figure out your pack years, multiply how many packs a day (assuming 20 cigarettes per pack) you smoke by how many years you have smoked.
Your doctor may recommend that you get screened each year if:
Before a low-dose CT scan to screen for lung cancer, tell your doctor if you have a heart condition, such as heart failure.
Talk to your doctor about any concerns you have about your need for the test, its risks, how it will be done, or what the results will mean. To help you understand the importance of this test, fill out the medical test information form.
A CT scan is usually done by a radiology technologist. The pictures are usually read by a radiologist, who writes the report. Other doctors also may review a CT scan.
You may need to take off any jewelry, and some clothing, such as a bra. You will be given a gown to use during the test.
During the test, you will lie on a table that is attached to the CT scanner.
The table slides into the round opening of the scanner, and the scanner moves around your body. The table will move while the scanner takes pictures. You may hear a click or buzz as the table and scanner move.
It is very important to lie still during the test.
During the test, you may be alone in the scan room. But the technologist will watch you through a window. You will be able to talk to the technologist through a two-way intercom. The test will take about 30 minutes. For most of this time, you'll be getting ready for the scan. The actual scan only takes a few seconds.
The test will not cause pain.
The table you lie on may feel hard, and the room may be cool.
It may be hard to lie still during the test. Some people feel nervous inside the CT scanner. Tell the technologist or doctor how you feel.
Your doctor will likely get back to you with complete results in 1 to 2 days.
No growths (nodules) were found in your lungs.
Next step: Another low-dose CT scan to screen for lung cancer in 1 year.
A nodule or nodules were found, but because of their small size, you don't need anything else right now.
Next step: Another low-dose CT scan to screen for lung cancer in 3 to 6 months.
A nodule or nodules were found, and at least one of them is large enough for your doctor to talk to you about having more tests now.
Next step: Your doctor may suggest any of these tests:
You may not be able to have the test, or the results may not be helpful, if:
Current as ofDecember 19, 2018
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: Martin J. Gabica, MD - Family MedicineKathleen Romito, MD - Family MedicineHoward B. Schaff, MD - Diagnostic Radiology
Current as of:
December 19, 2018
Medical Review:Martin J. Gabica, MD - Family Medicine & Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & Howard B. Schaff, MD - Diagnostic Radiology
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