What You Should Know About Lung Cancer Screening

If you are a current or former smoker, you may be eligible for lung cancer screening. A test called a low-dose CT scan is used to identify lung nodules or other findings that may indicate cancer.

Lung cancer screening is important. Like all tests, there are risks and benefits. It is important to discuss screening with your doctor and healthcare team so you can make an informed choice.

Who Can Be Screened?

If you are between the ages of 55 and 77 and have smoked at least 30 “pack years,” even if you have quit during the past 15 years, you are eligible for lung screening. A pack year is defined as twenty cigarettes smoked every day about 7,300 cigarettes a year! Screening would not be appropriate if you have any symptoms of lung cancer, so discuss any of these symptoms with your doctor:

  • Coughing up blood
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Change in a chronic cough
  • New cough that won’t go away

What is a Low-Dose CT Scan?

This exam is a low-dose CT scan designed to identify cancer in its early stages. Coordination and follow-up of your care are important to us. After the scan, a report will be sent to your primary care physician.

How is the Exam Performed?

Low-dose CT lung screening is one of the easiest screening exams. The exam takes less than 10 seconds, no medications are given and no needles are used. You can eat before and after the exam and do not even need to change clothes as long as the clothing on your chest does not contain metal. You must however, be able to lie flat and hold your breath for at least six seconds during the chest scan.

What are the Benefits of Screening?

The goal of lung screening is to identify cancer at an early, and more treatable stage. Without lowdose CT scans, lung cancer is usually not found until a person develops symptoms. At that time, the cancer is much harder to treat.

What are the Risks of Lung Cancer Screening?

Lung cancer screening tests can find nodules that look like cancer when they are not (called false positives) or may miss some cancers (false
negatives). As many as half the patients screened may have a spot that requires more testing, ranging from more diagnostic testing to an invasive biopsy. Approximately 95% of these spots will not be cancer. You may need more frequent CT scans to monitor the nodules so your doctor may recommend follow-up care based on national guidelines.

What About Smoking?

Screening does not substitute for smoking cessation. Even in older, heavier smokers, those who stop smoking before or shortly after starting annual screening have an additional 20% reduction in their risk of dying from lung cancer. It is never too late to stop. Learn more about  smoking cessation.

How Often Should I Get Screened?

Screening is a program over time, not a single test. An annual scan is recommended for most individuals. You and your doctor will work with  team that may include a nurse navigator or coordinator and other specialists to maximize the benefits of screening and minimize the potential harms.

Pricing and Scheduling

Your physician must order the screening. Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services and most commercial insurers cover lung screening for those who meet the criteria. If you have questions on whether this is a covered screening under your insurance provider, please contact them for coverage criteria.

Diagnostic Technology That Saves Lives

Not only does Sky Ridge provide screenings, we are also the first hospital in the Denver metro area to acquire and use the SPiN Thoracic Navigation System by Veran Medical Technologies. This system provides doctors with the ability to diagnose small lung lesions in earlier stages of cancer.

After you’ve had your screening, if the results come back with evidence of lung cancer, the next step is to diagnose the suspicious lung nodules. The Veran technology increases your doctor’s ability to detect and diagnose smaller lesions as well as navigate harder to reach areas. With early diagnosis of lung cancer, it dramatically improves your chance of survival.

What are the Benefits of this New Technology?

  • Earlier detection
  • Fewer hospital visits
  • Better patient outcomes

Download a pdf about the Lung Cancer Screening Program.