Low-Dose CT FAQ
Yearly lung cancer screening with low-dose CT, or LDCT, has been shown to save lives by finding cancer early, when it is easier to treat. Here, we’ve answered the questions about getting a low-dose CT scan that we hear most often from our patients.
Frequently asked questions
Q: What is the goal of LDCT lung screening?
The goal of LDCT lung screening is to detect lung cancer earlier. Without proactive screening and diagnosis, doctors don’t usually find lung cancer until a person develops symptoms. By that time, the cancer is much harder to treat.
Q: Who should get an LDCT lung screening exam?
LDCT lung screening is recommended for people who are at high risk for lung cancer. Screening before signs of lung cancer appear may lower the risk of death by as much as 20%. Those who have symptoms of a lung condition at the time of screening, such as a new cough or shortness of breath, are not eligible. They should see a physician immediately.
Q: Why does it matter if I have symptoms?
Certain symptoms can be a sign that you have a condition in your lungs that should be evaluated and treated, if necessary, by your healthcare provider. These symptoms include fever, chest pain, a new or changing cough, shortness of breath that you have never felt before, coughing up blood or unexplained weight loss. If you have any of these symptoms, see your physician immediately.
Q: Who is considered high-risk for lung cancer?
People ages 50 to 77 who have smoked at least an average of 1 pack a day for 20 years. This includes people who still smoke or have quit within the past 15 years.
Q: If I meet the criteria for being high-risk but have been diagnosed with cancer in the past, is LDCT lung screening appropriate for me?
It depends. In some cases, LDCT lung screening will not be appropriate, such as when your physician is already following your cancer with CT scan studies. Your physician will help determine if a low-dose CT scan is right for you.
Q: Do I need to have an LDCT lung screening exam every year?
Yes. If you are high-risk, we recommend a lung cancer screening exam every year until you are 77 years old or it’s been more than 15 years since you quit smoking.
Q: How effective is a low-dose CT scan at preventing death from lung cancer?
Studies show that when compared to single-view chest X-ray screening, LDCT lung screening can lower the risk of death from lung cancer by 20% in people who are at risk.
Q: How is the exam performed?
Low-dose CT is one of the easiest screening exams you can have. The exam takes less than 10 minutes. You don’t need to take any medications and we don’t use any needles. You can eat before and after the exam. You don’t even need to change clothes as long as the clothing on your chest does not contain metal. You must, however, be able to hold your breath for at least 6 seconds while we take the chest scan.
Depending on the results, you may need continued screening or additional tests and treatments. We will send the results to your physician who placed the lung screening order.
Q: What are the risks of LDCT lung screening?
There are several risks and limitations to using a low-dose CT scan. We want to make sure we have done a good job explaining these to you, so please let us know if you have any questions. A complete list of risks is included on the consent form. Your healthcare provider who ordered the screening may want to talk with you more about the risks listed below.
- Radiation exposure: LDCT lung screening uses radiation to create images of your lungs. Radiation can increase a person’s risk of cancer. By using special techniques, the amount of radiation in LDCT lung screening is small – about the normal amount received from the sun in a year. Further, your physician has determined the benefits of the screening outweigh the risks of being exposed to the small amount of radiation from this exam.
- False negative: No test is perfect. It is possible that you may have a medical condition, including lung cancer, that the screening doesn’t reveal. This is called a false negative.
- False positive/additional testing: A low-dose CT scan often finds something in the lung that could be cancer but in fact is not. This is called a false positive and can cause anxiety. To make sure these findings are not cancer, you may need to have more tests. These tests will be performed only if you give us permission. Occasionally, patients need a procedure, such as a biopsy, that can have potential side effects.
- Findings not related to lung cancer: Your LDCT lung screening exam also captures images of areas of your body next to your lungs. In a small percentage of cases, 5%-10%, the CT scan will show an abnormal finding in one of these areas, such as your kidneys, adrenal glands, liver, heart vessels or thyroid. This finding may not be serious, but you may need further evaluation. The healthcare provider who ordered your exam can help determine what, if any, additional testing you need.
Q: Do I need a physician’s referral for low-dose CT screening?
No, you do not need a referral from your primary care physician to receive low-dose CT screening. You can self-refer and call 913-588-1227 to request an appointment.
Q: How much does low-dose CT screening cost?
Medicare and many other commercial payers have approved this screening as a covered benefit for those who meet high-risk criteria. For those with insurance, we will bill your insurance provider. If you need further tests based on the results from the screening, most insurance companies will cover the cost of any additional tests as well. If you need help understanding your insurance coverage, please contact our patient financial counselors at 913-588-1227. If you do not have insurance, you will need to cover the cost.
Q: What can I expect from the results?
About 1 out of 4 LDCT lung screenings will find something in the lungs that may require additional imaging or evaluation. Most of the time these findings are lung nodules. Lung nodules are very small collections of tissue in the lungs. These nodules are very common, and the vast majority of them – more than 97% – are not cancer. Most are normal lymph nodes or small areas of scarring from past infections.
Less commonly, lung nodules are cancer. If a small lung nodule is found to be cancer, the cancer can be cured more than 90% of the time. This is why we recommend screening.
To distinguish the large number of benign, noncancerous nodules from the few nodules that are, in fact, cancer, we may need to get more images or other tests before your next yearly screening exam. If the nodule has suspicious features, such as a large size, an odd shape or growth over time, we will refer you to a specialist for further testing.
Q: When will I get the results?
Typically, the results of your screening CT are available within 2-3 hours. A nurse practitioner will contact you to review your results and discuss the recommended follow-up. If you have additional questions, call 913-588-1227.
Q: Will my physician also receive the results?
Yes. The healthcare provider, as well as your primary care physician, will receive information regarding your results.
Q: What should I do if I think I qualify for LDCT lung screening?
Call 913-588-1227 to see if you qualify and to schedule your screening. You’ll require an order from your primary care physician for a low-dose CT scan. Our nurse navigator can assist in obtaining the order.
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