Harry S. Truman Memorial Veterans’ Hospital
Lung Cancer Screening
Screening means testing for a disease when there are no symptoms or history. Doctors recommend screening as a method of finding a disease early, when treatment may work better.
The only recommended screening test for lung cancer is low-dose computed tomography (LDCT). During an LDCT scan, an X-ray machine that produces a low-dose amount of radiation is used to make detailed images of a patient’s lungs. The scan only takes a few minutes and is not painful. No medications are given, and no needles are used. Patients may eat before and after the exam, and there is no need to change into a gown if the clothing on the patient’s chest does not contain metal. However, patients be able to hold their breath for at least six seconds while the chest scan is being taken.
The goal of LDCT lung screening is to save lives. Without this type of screening, lung cancer usually is not found until a person develops symptoms. At that point, lung cancer may be much harder to treat. Studies have shown that LDCT lung screening can lower the risk of death from lung cancer by 20 percent in people who are considered high-risk.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends yearly lung cancer screening with LDCT for people who:
- Have a history of heavy smoking, and
- Smoke now or have quit within the past 15 years, and
- Are between 55 and 80 years old.
Heavy smoking means a smoking history of 30 pack years or more. A pack year is smoking an average of one pack of cigarettes per day for one year. For example, a person could have a 30 pack-year history by smoking one pack a day for 30 years or two packs a day for 15 years.
Lung cancer screening is recommended only for adults who are considered high-risk for developing the disease because of their smoking history and age, and who do not have a health problem that substantially limits their life expectancy.
When should screening stop?
The task force recommends that yearly lung cancer screening stop when the person being screened:
- Turns 81 years old, or
- Has not smoked in 15 or more years, or
- Develops a health issue that prohibits surgery if lung cancer is found.
Making the decision to be screened for lung cancer is a personal decision. Patients should talk with their health care provider and make the decision based on what is right for them.