CT Lung Cancer Screening

CT lung cancer screening is a noninvasive, painless procedure that uses low-dose X-rays to screen the lungs for cancer in just 30 seconds. It is performed on a multi-slice, spiral, computed tomography (CT) scanner and can detect smaller nodules or cancer than standard chest X-rays.

A tumor or nodule is a mass of cells that grows on the lungs. It can be benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous). By detecting malignant tumors in an early stage with CT lung cancer screening, the cancer cells can be treated at a time when the cancer still has promising survival rates and is localized to the lungs.

Peter J. Julien, MD, chief of Thoracic Imaging, heads our team of imaging doctors, nurses and technologists who specialize in this procedure.

Christopher Lee, MD, is the co-director of the Cedars-Sinai Lung Cancer Screening Program.

Why is CT lung cancer screening important?

Lung cancer is the #1 cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. This disease is responsible for more deaths annually than breast, prostate and colorectal cancers combined. In the United States, the lifetime risk of developing invasive lung cancer is one in 17 for men and one in 18 for women.

It is estimated that over 80% of lung cancers could be cured if detected at an early stage. Unfortunately, only 15% of lung cancers are caught at this stage, making the five-year survival rate for all stages of lung cancer 20%. Catching lung cancer in an early stage while it is still localized to the lung is essential. A person's chance of survival decreases when the tumor grows to be 3 centimeters or more. If the cancer spreads to areas of the body outside the lungs, the survival rate is only 5%, compared with 70% if the cancer is detected early.

Who should have CT lung cancer screening?

Medicare (CMS) covers annual CT lung cancer screening based the following criteria:

  • Patient is between the ages of 50 and 77.
  • Patient has a 20-pack-a-year smoking history.
  • Patient is a current smoker or has quit within the last 15 years.
  • Patient has no signs or symptoms of lung cancer.
  • Patient has not had a CT chest exam in the previous 12 months.
  • Lung cancer screening is not recommended for patients with other, serious health conditions.
  • The provider must document that there has been shared decision-making and counseling.
  • The provider must document that the patient has received smoking cessation guidance.

Private insurance

Some other insurances may follow the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommendations, which adhere to the CMS guidelines but extend eligibility for annual screening until age 80.

Screening is recommended once a year for patients who remain at high risk. It is important for patients to be aware that having a negative scan (no nodules or cancer) does not mean that lung cancer will not develop in the future if they remain at high risk for the disease.

How is CT lung cancer screening performed?

There are no preparations required for this study. During the exam, patients lie on their backs on an exam table with arms above the head. They must hold their breath briefly as the pictures are being taken. For a short period of time, the body may be covered by a scanner, but the scanner is open at the back and front so that the patient can see out. The technologist is always able to see and hear the patient during the five-minute procedure.

To schedule at appointment, please call 310-423-8000A doctor's referral is required.

The S. Mark Taper Foundation Imaging Center provides a full range of advanced imaging, both radiology and cardiology, as well as interventional radiology and interventional tumor (oncology) treatments to the greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, Encino, Mid-Cities, Sherman Oaks, Silver Lake, Studio City, Toluca Lake and West Hollywood.