Our lung cancer screening program, part of the University of Minnesota Health Cancer Care, has been recognized by the Lung Cancer Alliance as one of the only screening centers of excellence in Minnesota. The test requires no preparation and takes about 10 seconds to complete. It uses special low-dose X-ray technology to obtain an image of your lung tissue. You will have to be able to hold your breath for six seconds, however, while the scan takes place.
How do I know if I should be screened?
Lung cancer screening is recommended for current and former smokers based on age and smoking history. The national guidelines for who should be screened include:
- Men and women between the ages of 55 and 79 (ages 55-77 for Medicare patients)
- Have smoked at least a pack of cigarettes a day for 30 or more years
- Currently a smoker or have quit within the past 15 years
If you meet these criteria, you are a good candidate for annual lung cancer screening. However, if you have a new cough or shortness of breath, you should talk to your doctor before being screened.
What does the screening involve?
Screening for lung cancer is quick and easy. It takes less than ten minutes. There is no special preparation, and you don’t have to wear any special clothing. You will, however, need to hold your breath for six seconds while the scan takes place. Most people can do this easily.
The purpose of the screening is to find nodules in the lungs. Nodules are small, round masses of tissue. Many people have these nodules and more than 97 percent are not cancer. They can be caused by infections or scar tissue. Some, however, can be a sign of cancer. This is what the screening will help to determine.
If no lung nodules are found, you can wait a year before your next screening.
What if the scan shows some lung nodules?
Approximately one out of four screening exams finds something that may require additional imaging or evaluation.
If lung nodules are found, doctors will examine them for size, shape, density and other specific traits. If a lung nodule has suspicious features, we will have you see a specialist from our Lung Nodule Program for further review and testing.
In large screening studies, about one quarter of the patients who underwent lung cancer screening had some abnormal finding on their CT scan. Of that quarter of the group, less than four percent were found to actually have lung cancer (less than one percent of the total group screened). The doctors will explain all of this to you in more detail.
Who will do the screening?
Screenings are conducted by radiologists who are specially trained in lung cancer screening and certified by the American College of Radiology as a lung cancer screening center.
Will my own doctor be involved?
Your primary care physician will participate in your care but will not conduct the actual screening. He or she will receive results of the test soon after its completion.
Are there any risks to lung cancer screening?
As with many medical procedures, there are some risks. With lung cancer screening, the risks are very small.
- Radiation exposure: While the low-dose CT uses only a very small amount of radiation, there is a slight increased risk of cancer from the radiation exposure. The amount of radiation in the lung screening procedure is similar to the radiation a patient would receive when having a mammogram.
- False negative: No test is perfect, including a low dose CT. It is possible that a screening may overlook an actual lung cancer. This is called a false negative.
- False positive: Sometimes, the low-dose CT finds something that looks like cancer but is not. This is called a false positive. False positive results can cause anxiety and extra testing to rule out cancer.
- Other findings: When taking an image of your lungs, the low-dose CT also takes pictures of nearby areas of your body, including portions of your kidneys, adrenal glands, liver and thyroid. In a small number of cases, it will show an abnormal finding in one of these areas. This may not be serious, but you may need additional testing.
What if I’ve already had cancer?
If you have already been diagnosed with lung cancer or some other cancer, you may be advised not to have lung screening. Your doctor will help you decide if screening is right for you.
How effective is the screening?
Studies have shown that low-dose CT lung cancer screening can lower the risk of death from lung cancer by 20 percent in people who are at high risk.
How much will it cost?
Public and private insurance providers began covering lung cancer screening for qualified patients in 2015. Please check with your insurance provider for eligibility requirements.
How soon will I get the results?
After your screening exam, your x-rays will be sent to a radiologist, who will review and interpret the images. This process may take several days, so you should learn the results of your screening exam in a week or two. If a radiologist finds anything suspicious for lung cancer, i.e. nodules, follow-up may include more frequent surveillance, biopsy or other diagnostic procedures.
What if the doctor finds cancer?
Most test results will be negative. If doctors believe the nodules contain some cancer, however, they will help you reschedule a surgical procedure to remove the nodules and send them to a lab for further testing. If cancer is found, the doctors will refer you to an oncologist at University of Minnesota Health Cancer Care for treatment and follow-up.
How often should I get screened?
If you are in a high-risk group, you should have a low-dose CT scan every year until you reach the age of 77. Your doctor will tell you if you need to be screened more frequently.