Lung Cancer Screening

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the United States. One reason lung cancer is so deadly is that it is usually fairly advanced by the time symptoms show up.

Early detection through low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) can find lung cancer at a stage when it is still curable through treatment.

Columbia Radiology offers lung cancer screening to eligible smokers or those who have smoked heavily in the past. Talk to your doctor about the benefits and risks of lung cancer screening to decide whether screening is right for you.

What is lung cancer screening?

“Screening” refers to performing exams on patients who don't have any symptoms, to allow detection of cancer at an early stage. Many patients do not have symptoms when lung cancer first starts.

A LDCT uses a small amount of radiation to make detailed images of your lungs, which are analyzed by a radiologist. LDCT uses a much lower dose of radiation than a regular CT scan. It is not painful and takes only a few minutes.

Who should consider lung cancer screening?

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends annual lung cancer screening for adults who are:

  • between the ages of 50 and 80 years
  • have a 20 pack-year smoking history
  • currently smoke or have quit within the past 15 years.
  • do not have any signs or symptoms of lung cancer

Your doctor will help you decide whether lung cancer screening is right for you.

What to Expect From the Exam

A LDCT is painless and quick. You will lie on your back on a table which can slide in and out of the CT scanner. Once you are comfortable, the technologist will leave the room to perform the scan, but he or she will be able to see, hear, and speak with you at all times.

The technologist will ask you to hold very still and may ask you to hold your breath during the scan. The table will move quickly through the machine. You may hear some knocking or clicking noises. The actual scan takes less than five minutes.

After the Exam

After the exam you can immediately resume your normal activities.

A radiologist will analyze the CT images and communicate the results to your doctor who requested the exam. Your doctor will then discuss the results with you.


Lung cancer screening looks for nodules on the lung, which appear as small spots on the scan. Lung nodules can form on your lungs for a variety of reasons and don't necessarily mean you have cancer.

Your doctor will go over your results and discuss any next steps that would be appropriate. Some possible results are:

  • No abnormalities detected: If nothing abnormal is detected, your doctor may recommend that you get screened again in one year.
  • Lung nodules detected: About 80 percent of lung nodules are small and do not require any follow up other than a regular annual LDCT screening. Large lung nodules are more likely to be cancerous. If you have a large lung nodule, you may be referred for additional testing.
  • Other conditions detected: The exam may show signs of other lung and heart conditions that are common among smokers, such as emphysema. Your doctor will discuss next steps and additional tests if there are signs of a condition that is not lung cancer.