Lung Cancer Screening | John Stoddard Cancer Center

Lung Cancer Screening

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the United States, yet more than 80 percent of lung cancers have a chance to be cured if detected early.

Approximately 85 percent of lung cancer occurs in current or former cigarette smokers. It is estimated that there are more than 9 million current and former smokers in the United States, many of whom are at high risk of developing the disease.

Lung Cancer Screening

Computerized tomography (CT) screening uses special X-ray technology to obtain image data and then uses computer processing of the data to show a cross section of the body tissues and organs.

What is the goal of LDCT lung screening?

The goal of LDCT (low dose CT) lung screening is to save lives. Without LDCT lung screening, lung cancer is usually not found until a person develops symptoms. At that time, the cancer is much harder to treat and most are not curable.

How effective is LDCT lung screening at preventing death from lung cancer?

Studies have shown that LDCT lung screening can lower the risk of death from lung cancer by 2O percent  in people who are at high risk. It has also been shown that with screening, 4 out of 5 cancers detected may potentially be curable.

How is the exam performed?

LDCT lung screening is one of the easiest exams you can have. The exam takes less than seconds, no medications are given, and no needles are used. You can eat before and after the exam. You do not even need to get changed as long as the clothing on your chest does not contain metal. One must, however, be able to hold their breath for at least 6 seconds while the chest scan is being taken.

How often will I be screened?

LDCT screening is an ongoing process and you may undergo yearly screening for several years.

How many people will be found to have lung cancer?

For every 100 people screened, only 1 will be found to have lung cancer.

What are the risks of screening?

The risk of finding an abnormality on the CT screening is 1 in 4. Ninety-six percent of these abnormalities will not be cancer.

If an abnormality is found, one may have to undergo further testing to determine the exact nature of the abnormality. Most of the testing will be in the form of other imaging tests. Very few people will require an invasive (needle biopsy) test.

Radiation exposure from the test is minimal. The amount of radiation you will receive is less than six months of natural background radiation.

Some cancers that are found may never have become a problem and would not have affected the person's longevity. This is called "over diagnosis," and we do not know how often this occurs.

Qualifications for Lung Cancer Screening

The United States Preventative Services Task Force (2013 ) is now recommending annual low dose computed tomography (LDCT) scans for high risk individuals. A person is considered high risk if they meet all of the following criteria:

  • Adults 55-74 years
  • Asymptomatic (no signs or symptoms of lung cancer)
  • Greater than 30-pack per year history (one pack year smoking one pack per day for one year, 1 pack = 20 cigarettes)
  • Current smoker, or have quit within the past 15 years

A written order must be received from your health care provider for LDCT. For the initial screen one must receive a written order during a face to face lung cancer screening, counseling and shared decision making visit. For subsequent screens, one must receive a written order, which can be obtained during any subsequent health care visit.

Insurance Coverage

The Affordable Care Act mandates that private insurances cover all screening exams with a grade B evidence or greater (LDCT lung cancer screening meets this). Medicare will also cover the cost.

How to schedule a screening

All that's needed is a health care provider's written order as outlined above. For additional information, talk to your doctor or call UnityPoint Health - Des Moines Radiology at (515) 263-5370.