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CT For Lung Cancer Screening

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CT For Lung Cancer Screening

On July 6, 2011 the New England Journal of Medicine published results from the National Lung Cancer Screening Trial (NLST) conducted by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the American College of Radiology Imaging Network (ACRIN). This study, called the National Lung Screening Trial (NLST), is the only randomized controlled trial of lung-cancer screening that has been completed and included more than 50,000 patients. The study compared CT scans with chest x-ray to screen for lung cancer in patients aged 55-74 who had smoked one pack of cigarettes a day for 30 years. The CT scans were found to reduce the number of deaths from lung cancer by 20%.

Based on the results of the NLST, Via Radiology has created a program to offer CT lung cancer screening scans to eligible patients in Seattle. If you are a current or former long-term smoker over the age of 50, ask your doctor about whether you should receive the scan. Eligible patients can access the scans only with a doctor’s referral.


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CT scans are the only proven effective way to screen for lung cancer.

CT scans can identify small nodules or other harmful abnormalities in your lungs. Early detection by a CT scan can significantly increase the effectiveness of lung cancer treatment. According to the National Lung Cancer Screening Trial (NLST), CT scans were found to reduce the number of deaths from lung cancer by 20%. As with any procedure, there are important benefits to being screened, as well as risks. It is highly encouraged that risks and benefits associated with screening be discussed with your healthcare provider.

The screening chest CT scan is a quick and painless procedure. It takes about 15 minutes to complete. Current and former smokers have a 25 times greater risk of developing lung cancer than someone who has never smoked.


Early Detection– Those at high risk with no signs or symptoms can find lung cancer early, making treatment easier.

Other Conditions– If not lung cancer, a CT can help identify other potential threats, conditions or diseases that need to be treated.


False Negatives– Cancer screening is by no means perfect. Some cancers may go undetected.

False Positives– When nodules or abnormalities are found, further action may be required in order to determine the diagnosis. According to the National Lung Screening Trial, approximately 40% of the screening CT’s revealed small, indeterminate lung nodules that required follow-up in order to determine stability. Such results can require additional costs, radiation exposure, and patient anxiety. With that said, the investigated results may determine that all cells were proven to be noncancerous. This can produce an exhausting relief to the patient.

Radiation Exposure– A low-dose scan exposes one to roughly 75% less radiation than a standard chest CT scan. The standard chest CT uses approximately 7 milliSieverts of radiation and the low dose lung cancer screening chest CT uses approximately 2 milliSieverts. The natural background radiation exposure is 3.1 milliSieverts and the average exposure for a US resident is 6.2 milliSieverts.

Ongoing research will help determine who else may be at high risk for developing lung cancer, but the following group is at the highest risk:

  • Current smokers
  • Former smokers who have quit in the past 15 years
  • Anyone between the ages of 55 to 80
  • Anyone exposed to asbestos
  • Anyone exposed to other occupational hazards like arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, chromium, coal, smoke or soot, diesel fumes, nickel or silica.
  • Anyone who has a history of at least 30 pack-years* of smoking

*Pack-Years: Number of packs smoked per day multiplied by number of years smoked. For example, if you smoked one pack of cigarettes a day for 30 years, this would equate to “30 pack-years of smoking”.

  • Anyone who has been treated for lung cancer
  • Anyone showing signs and symptoms of lung cancer
  • Anyone unwilling or unable to undergo treatment if lung cancer is found

Most healthcare providers recommend an annual CT Scan for lung cancer screening purposes.


Medicare has approved low dose chest CT screening for certain patients. Speak to your healthcare provider for more details.


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