What is a CT Lung Screening Test and who should get one?

Dr. Boris Naraev is a medical oncologist who assists with the Lung Cancer Screening program at Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center.

Question: What is a CT Lung Screening Test and who should get one?

Answer: Until recently, screening options for lung cancer were not believed to improve outcomes, unlike other cancers like cervical and breast cancer, in which screening tests have proven to be very effective in identifying the disease in its earlier and more treatable stages. However, research has shown that individuals with certain risk factors should consider screening, as early detection of lung cancer may improve survival rates.

Results of a large study called the National Lung Screening Trial showed a reduction in mortality rates when low-dose computed tomography (CT) scans were used to screen high-risk groups for lung cancer. A low-dose CT scan is a non-invasive test that shows images of the lungs and can help identify any abnormalities with greater accuracy than a basic chest X-ray.

A CT scan can be performed in a hospital or imaging center on an outpatient basis and requires no special preparation by the patient. The scan emits low levels of radiation, making it a reasonably safe screening option.

Smoking is considered the greatest contributing factor to lung cancer. The average person does not need to be screened for lung cancer, but for individuals with a long or heavy history of smoking, a screening low-dose CT scan can provide critical information.

Lung cancer screenings are recommended for a specific group of people, particularly those 55 to 74 years old who have smoked, on average, a pack a day for at least 30 years and smoked within the last 15 years, or those over 50 who have smoked a pack a day for 20 years and have at least one other risk factor, including a personal history of certain cancers, family history of lung cancer, a respiratory condition, a particular environmental exposure, or another factor.