By Amy Copeland, MPH, Director of Medical Outreach with Lung Cancer Alliance
Lung cancer screening. You may have seen it on the news or an advertisement for it, but what is it and does it make sense for you?
Screening refers to a test for individuals considered to be at high risk for a disease before they have symptoms. Lung cancer often has no symptoms until it has spread due to a lack of pain receptors in the lungs. The only proven method to detect lung cancer at an early and treatable stage is with a low dose computed tomography (LDCT) scan. Currently, lung cancer screening is recommended for a specific high-risk population.*
Getting a LDCT scan is similar to your routine mammogram or colonoscopy. Here is what you can expect when going for a screening:
Do I need to do anything in advance of my screening?
No liquids or injections are required prior to a scan. The test itself is quick and easy and will not affect the rest of your day.
What happens when I arrive for my screening?
You will be asked to remove all metal, like jewelry or clothes that have snaps or zippers. You may be asked to change into a gown.
What is a low dose computed tomography scan?
A LDCT scan is an imaging procedure that uses special x-ray equipment to create detailed pictures, or scans, of areas inside the body. Each picture created shows the organs, bones, and other tissues in a thin “slice” of the body. The entire series of pictures is like a loaf of sliced bread—you can look at each slice individually, or the whole loaf, giving doctors a cross-section of the area being scanned.
How much radiation will I be exposed to?
You will be exposed to low levels of radiation during the test. This level of radiation is more than an x-ray but much lower than a regular CT scan that you might have if you have symptoms of cancer. To put it into perspective, you will receive about the same amount of radiation from six months in your natural environment.
How is the test conducted?
You will lie on your back on a table or platform. If you are uncomfortable, they may have pillows or padding to help. The technician will remain in the room and he/she will ask you to hold your breath as the table moves quickly through a donut-like CT scanner (see image). You will only have to hold your breath for 10 seconds at the most. The scan itself only takes about 30 seconds total.
Is lung cancer screening covered by insurance?
Currently, lung cancer screening is covered by most insurance plans and Medicare for a specific high-risk population.*
Although the test itself is quick and easy, similar to other disease screening, lung cancer screening is not a one-time experience. In order for it to be effective, your doctor will likely recommend you come in for a scan on a regular basis. Since your history and health is as unique as you are, it is important to discuss with your doctor is screening makes sense for you.
Here are some help resources:
- Lung cancer risk factors
- More about lung cancer screening
- Lung Cancer Alliance Screening Centers of Excellence Network
For further questions about your risk for lung cancer and screening, please contact our support team at 1-800-298-2436 or email email@example.com.
* According to the United States Preventive Services Task Force, if you meet the following criteria, you are considered at high-risk for lung cancer and it is recommended you get a CT scan.
- You are between the ages of 55-80.
- You have a 30 pack-year smoking history.
- (Calculated as # of packs smoked per day multiplied by # of years smoking. For example: 1 pack per day X 20 years = 20 pack years)
- You are a current smoker or quit within the past 15 years.
Research is underway to expand criteria for this group, as it does not cover all those at risk for the disease. That being said, it is essential to have a conversation with your doctor about your individual risk and if screening makes sense for you.