Cancer answers: Is a lung scan for me?

Written by Community Health Network on 11/17/2014 6:00:00 AM

Lung cancer screening options

The newest guidelines for lung cancer screenings encourage those at risk to get a low-dose CT scan. Who's at risk and why do they need a low-dose CT scan? We asked diagnostic radiologist, Kenyon Kopecky, MD, FACR, to weigh in.

Who is really at risk for lung cancer?
Smokers are at the highest level of risk. The United States Preventive Services Task Force recommends annual screening for lung cancer for adults ages 55 to 80 years who have a 30 pack-year smoking history (one pack per day for 30 years or two packs per day for 15 years) and currently smoke, OR adults in the same age range who have quit within the past 15 years.

For a smoker who is otherwise healthy, scheduling a lung screening may not seem urgent or even necessary. In fact, the idea of screening individuals at “high risk” has been debated for decades. But, simply put, smoking is the biggest risk factor in all cancer types. Smoking causes 90 percent of all lung cancer cases.

What is a low-dose CT scan?
It is a low-dose computed tomography scan. A high-speed CT scanner is used to capture high-resolution images of the lungs with limited ionizing radiation. A radiation oncologist will then review the images of the lung for any abnormalities. The examination is simple, safe and painless (no needles). 

Is a spot on the lung always cancer?
Some spots or nodules in the lungs are cancer; however, most are not. Many people have lung nodules which are not cancerous. Most noncancerous lung nodules are the result of previous infection. In Indiana, the most common infection that causes lung nodules is a fungus called histoplasmosis. But a low dose CT scan cannot distinguish between cancerous and noncancerous nodules, often creating a spot on the lung scan. If many spots appear and the patient is at high risk for cancer, we'll perform additional tests, including biopsy in some cases.

Does the lung screening involve special prep?
There is no prep, and there are no needle punctures. The low-dose CT lung scan appointment takes no more than 30 minutes. The scan itself takes only a few seconds.

I think I am a candidate for lung screening. What should I do?
First, talk to your physician. Here are some questions to get that conversation started:

  • What is my risk of lung cancer?
  • Can you help me calculate my pack years for my smoking history? 
  • If I still smoke, how can you help me quit? Do you recommend I receive a low dose CT scan to screen for lung cancer? 

Lung screenings at Community

Community offers lung screening at imaging centers and hospitals seven days a week. You must have an order from your doctor to schedule. To see if you qualify, talk to your doctor, and then call us to schedule at 317-621-8727 (24/7) or 888-864-8929 (for Howard/Kokomo area). Learn more about lung screenings >>

Appointments available!

To make an appointment with an MD Anderson Cancer Network® certified physician at Community, call 800-777-7775 today!

Community first healthcare organization in the nation to be certified by MD Anderson Cancer Network®

Community Health Network is the first healthcare organization to achieve system-wide recognition by MD Anderson Cancer Network® as a certified member. The five hospital locations providing qualified cancer services in the network have met the rigorous standards to treat cancer patients with MD Anderson evidence-based guidelines and best practices. Learn more.