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Lung cancer screening

Lung cancer screening to help find cancer early

Lung Cancer Screening  offers coordinated and comprehensive services for people who may be at high risk for lung cancer. This includes evaluating your risk factors, providing you with a shared decision-making tool to help you learn about the screening, and an accredited low-dose CT scan. Experienced radiologists interpret the results, and our chest and lung specialists in the Lung Clinic work with you if additional testing and care is needed

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What it is

Lung cancer screening can help find lung cancer at an early stage, when treatment may work better. Screening for lung cancer is done using a CT (computed tomography) scan. It uses low doses of radiation to provide a detailed picture of your lungs.

The first step in lung cancer screening is to meet with a provider from the Lung Program. He or she will make sure you meet the screening criteria for this test. You will also learn about the importance of  annual screening, quitting smoking and following any other recommendations after the test is completed.

Good to know

Lung cancer screening is recommended if you:

  • are between the ages of 55 and 80
  • smoke now or have quit within the last 15 years
  • have a history of heavy smoking (30 pack year history). This means that you have smoked one pack of cigarettes a day for 30 years or two packs a day for 15 years or equivalent. 
  • have no signs or symptoms of lung cancer (coughing up blood, trouble breathing, frequent infections, fatigue and unexpected weight loss)

You and your doctor should decide together if lung cancer screening makes sense for you. To help you in deciding, please see our shared decision making aid: Considering Lung Cancer Screening

Does insurance cover this test?

Medicare will cover the cost of this screening test for people age 55 to 77 years old.

Other insurance plan coverage may vary. Please call your insurance provider to find out if it is covered by your plan. If your insurance does not cover the cost for this exam, please talk to your primary care provider.  

How often is screening recommended?

Once you begin lung screenings, you should continue to be screened every year. Screening is stopped once a person has not smoked for 15 years, or develops health problems that greatly reduce the length of time one is expected to live.

What does screening tell me?

A low-dose chest CT may find lung nodules (areas that look different than normal lung tissue) that would not be visible on a plain chest X-ray. Many nodules will be non-cancerous and require no treatment, others may require further testing.

What if the lung screening shows a lung nodule or other abnormal finding?

Depending on the findings and the radiologist’s interpretation, we may recommend that you be evaluated further. We understand this may make some patients feel anxious. We will explain the results and help establish a plan for further testing or follow-up if indicated. You may be referred to a provider at our Lung Nodule Program.

Source: Allina Health Cancer Care
Reviewed by: Allina Health Cancer Care

First published: 6/4/2019
Last reviewed: 6/4/2019