CT Lung Screening

What is CT Lung Screening?

CT lung screening is a noninvasive, painless procedure that uses low-dose x-rays to screen the lungs for cancer in just 30 seconds. A CT lung screening allows the radiologist to look at different levels, or slices, of the lungs using a rotating X-ray beam. It is performed on a multi-slice spiral computed tomography (CT) scanner and can detect smaller nodules or cancer than standard chest x-rays. A tumor or nodule is a mass of cells that grows on the lungs. It can be benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous). By detecting malignant tumors in an early stage with CT lung screening, the cancer cells can be treated at a time when the cancer still has promising survival rates and is localized to the lungs.

Peter J. Julien, MD, Chief of Thoracic Imaging, heads our team of imaging physicians, nurses and technologists who specialize in this procedure.

To schedule at appointment, please call (310) 423-8000. A doctor's referral is required.

How is CT Lung Screening Performed?

During the exam, patients lie on their backs on an exam table with arms above the head. They must hold their breath briefly as the pictures are being taken. For a short period of time, the body may be covered by a scanner, but the scanner is open at the back and front so that the patient can see out. The technologist is always able to see and hear the patient during the 5-minute procedure.

Why is Lung Screening Important?

Lung cancer is the number one cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. This disease is responsible for more deaths annually than breast, prostate, and colorectal cancers combined. In the United States, the lifetime risk of developing invasive lung cancer is 1 in 17 for men and 1 in 18 for women.

It is estimated that over 80% of lung cancers could be cured if detected at an early stage. Unfortunately, only 15% of lung cancers are caught at this stage, making the 5-year survival rate for all stages of lung cancer 20%. Catching lung cancer in an early stage while it is still localized to the lung is essential. A person's chance of survival decreases when the tumor grows to be 3 cm or more. If the cancer spreads to areas of the body outside the lungs, the survival rate is only 5%, compared with 70% if the cancer is detected early. CT lung screening is capable of detecting lung nodules as small as 2 or 3 mm. By catching malignant tumors when they are still small, they can be surgically removed before disease spreads to other areas of the body.

Who Should Have Lung Screening?

The US Preventive Services Task Force, National Comprehensive Cancer Network, American College of Chest Physicians, American Society of Clinical Oncology, American Cancer Society, American Thoracic Society, and the American College of Radiology recommend lung screening for individuals between 55 and 74 who have any of the following risk factors:

  • History of lung cancer
  • 30 pack-year or more smoking history (1 pack of cigarettes per day for 30 years, 2 packs of cigarettes per day for 15 years, etc.)
  • Past history of 30 pack-year smoking (less than 15 years ago)
  • Exposure to other cancer-causing agents (eg, asbestos and radon)

Follow-up screening is recommended every once a year for patients who remain at high risk. It is important for patients to be aware that having a negative scan (no nodules or cancer) does not mean that lung cancer will not develop in the future if they remain at high risk for the disease.

Links to more information

  • American Lung Association CT Lung Screening Recommendations 
  • Research in the New England Journal of Medicine (Feb. 21, 2013) found that lung cancer screening with CT would detect more cancers and save more lives if current screening criteria were modified to include a wider range of individuals at risk. Full article. 
  • For the latest recommendations from the US Preventive Services Task Force, click here.

Women and Lung Cancer

In 1987, lung cancer surpassed breast cancer as the leading cause of cancer deaths in women. Although the number of lung cancer deaths in men has plateaued, the number of lung cancer deaths among women continues to increase. The American Lung Association's Lung Force,  seeks to unite women to stand together against lung cancer and for lung health.

How Accurate is Lung Screening?

Recent studies show that CT lung screening is more sensitive than standard lung screening methods (ie, chest x-ray, sputum cytology) in detecting lung cancer. Unlike standard chest x-rays, CT lung screening takes cross-sectional images of the lungs. This allows the radiologist to see the lungs from top to bottom. Chest x-rays only show views of the lungs from the front and sides. With 3D imaging, CT lung screening can measure the growth of tumors in all directions whereas standard x-rays can only measure tumors at their widest point, preventing the radiologist from tracking changes in the volume of the tumor.

Does the Procedure Involve Radiation?

CT Lung Screening does involve exposure to radiation in the form of x-rays, but the benefit of an accurate diagnosis far outweighs the risk. The effective radiation dose from this procedure is about 1 to 1.5 mSv, which is less than the average person receives from background radiation in six months.

Is Lung Screening Covered by Insurance?

Medicare covers CT lung screening under certain strict guidelines. If your study is not covered, please note that cash payment is due at the time of your procedure. The regular price for a CT Lung Screening is $350.

To schedule at appointment, please call 310-423-8000. A doctor's referral is required.

The S. Mark Taper Foundation Imaging Center provides a full range of advanced imaging, both radiology and cardiology, as well as interventional radiology and interventional tumor (oncology) treatments to the greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, Encino, Mid-Cities, Sherman Oaks, Silver Lake, Studio City, Toluca Lake, and West Hollywood.

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