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Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related death in the United States. Current and former smokers are at increased risk for developing lung cancer, and the best course of action for any smoker is to quit.
Detection of cancer at an early stage carries improved rates of survival. Recent research shows that that low-dose CT lung cancer screening, which uses X-rays to see into the lungs, has been proven effective in detecting lung cancer for smokers who fit certain criteria. This research, the National Lung Screening Trial (NLST), involved more than 50,000 patients, and it showed a 20 percent decrease in lung cancer related mortality among high risk patients when a series of three annual low-dose CT examinations was compared to a series of three chest x-rays.
Low-dose CT lung cancer screening is now available to patients at St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center.
Is this the right test for me?
We encourage you to discuss the test with your personal physician. People between the ages of 55 and 74 years with a greater than 30 pack year smoking history may benefit from lung cancer screening, according to NLST. To calculate your pack year smoking history, multiply the number of years you have smoked by the number of packs per day.
Screening exams are intended for patients with increased risk but no current symptoms. If you are having symptoms that may be related to lung cancer, such as worsening cough, hoarseness, hemoptysis, or weight loss, then you should discuss your symptoms with your physician and you should not undergo the lung cancer screening.
It is important to note that screening does not prevent the risk of death from cancer. Screening is also not an alternative to quitting smoking, which is a very important step to improving your health.
What are the risks?
Radiation carries a theoretical low risk that is difficult to quantify. However, the low-dose CT lung screening is designed to use a fraction of the radiation required for a regular chest CT. The need for additional testing and the possible worry about the findings are also risks of screening. Many patients who receive the test will have abnormalities that are not cancer, but rather benign nodules that remain stable over time (“false positives”). Most abnormalities detected at screening will turn out to be nothing of concern. It is important, however, that any abnormality is followed up as recommended in coordination with your personal physician.
Is this covered by insurance?
At this time, low-dose CT lung cancer screening is not covered by insurance, so the test is available only as an out-of-pocket expense. St. Elizabeth’s charges $299 for this test, lower than other centers in the area and nationally. Any follow-up examinations that are mandated by the results of your initial screening would be covered by insurance.
What will happen at my visit?
It is very important that you are feeling well and infection free on the day of your test. After registering for your visit, a radiology technologist will escort you to the CT scanner. The test takes only a one or two minutes. There are no injections or medications.
How will I get the results?
We will share the results of the test directly with your personal physician so that you can receive the results a few days after the test and coordinate any required follow up.
How should I interpret the results?
Your physician will be able to help you interpret the results. Do not be worried if there is a recommendation for future CT scans. Many patients will have follow-up CT scans to confirm that the abnormalities remain unchanged and will require no other tests. Some findings warrant additional testing or an expert opinion and we will request that you see a specialist in lung diseases (pulmonologist) to work with you further.
Low-Dose CT Lung Screening
St. Elizabeth's Medical Center