Frequently Asked Questions
What is the purpose of a lung cancer screening CT?
Lung cancer screening CT is a way of diagnosing lung cancer. If caught early, lung cancer is more treatable. Early detection can improve your chances of living longer.
Who should get a screening CT?
If you are someone who is at high risk for lung cancer, such as a current or previous heavy smoker, the importance of early detection cannot be stressed enough. Good candidates for a screening CT are those who have smoked for a large amount of time and who smoke a lot of cigarettes. Pack-years are an indicator for screening, which are calculated by the average number of packs of cigarettes per day multiplied by the total number of years a person has smoked. Previous studies have shown those with a 30-pack year or more history to be significant. Smokers with additional history of COPD, lung fibrosis, family history of lung cancer and exposure to radon, silica, cadmium, asbestos, arsenic, beryllium, chromium, diesel fumes or nickel are at higher risk.
What are the consequences of getting a screening CT?
A screening CT does expose you to additional levels of radiation beyond what each of us is exposed to in daily life. However, National Jewish Health has a Radiation Reduction Program to address these concerns.
Secondly, a lung cancer screening CT may prompt additional tests. This might happen to help doctors fully assess your health and make other, or additional, diagnoses. Some lung nodules may require additional testing like biopsy, surgery, or PET scan to decide whether they are in fact cancerous.
Is the radiation I’m exposed to during a CT scan a concern?
Everyone is exposed to natural radiation in the environment every day. Many imaging studies or tests expose a person to radiation. This exposure is higher than natural radiation. There has been increased use of diagnostic imaging, especially CT, in the past 30 years. This has increased concern for lifetime radiation exposure with repeated CT scans. While there is no conclusive evidence that radiation from diagnostic exams causes cancer, there is concern that increased radiation exposure may lead to increased cancer risk. Learn about the Radiation Reduction Program at National Jewish Health.
I have a lung nodule. Is this worrisome?
Most lung nodules (more than 90 percent) are not cancerous. It is important your nodule be examined and monitored closely. Lung nodules can be present in your body years before a doctor may discover them.
I have a suspicious lung nodule. What will happen next?
Once a CT scan confirms the lung nodule, your care will be referred to a pulmonary (respiratory) specialist and perhaps a thoracic surgeon to manage the next steps in the monitoring and care of the lung nodule. A suspicious lung nodule includes factors like large size, irregular borders, and its growth over time. Additional procedures may include a CT-guided lung biopsy, bronchoscopy, or surgery.