Lung Cancer Screening

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UnityPoint Health's cancer teams know that the best chance of a cure for lung cancer is early detection. That's why we offer lung screenings at many of our locations. Lung cancer remains the leading cause of cancer death in both men and women and is typically diagnosed at a more advanced stage after the cancer has spread. By making this test available, we can diagnose patients sooner and get them on the road to recovery faster.

What is a Lung Cancer Screening?

Our lung screening includes a low dose CT scan of the chest which is a rapid, non-invasive test using low-dose x-rays which provides detailed, three-dimensional images of the lungs. The entire chest is scanned in 15 seconds or less. Radiologists review images for the presence of small spots on the lungs, called nodules. 

What is the goal of lung cancer 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 a lung cancer screening done?

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 for lung cancer?

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

What are the risks of lung cancer 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.

Lung Cancer Screening Guidelines

The United States Preventative Services Task Force recommends 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 age 50-77 years
  • Asymptomatic (no signs or symptoms of lung cancer)
  • History of smoking more than 20 pack-years (an average of smoking 1 pack per day for 20 years)
  • Current smoker, or have quit within the past 15 years
  • An order must be received from your health care provider for LDCT.

Lung Cancer Risk Factors

Men and women with a history of cigarette smoking have a higher risk of developing lung cancer than the general population. The more cigarettes smoked per day and the longer you have been smoking, the greater your risk of developing lung cancer. High levels of pollution, radiation and asbestos exposure may also increase your risk. This is not a comprehensive list and you should talk to your provider to learn if you should look into a lung screening near you.