Lung Cancer Screening

Lung Cancer Screening

Last Reviewed : 12/29/2020
Lung Cancer Screening

  • Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the United States.
  • Screening helps to find cancer at an early stage
  • The best way to reduce your risk of lung cancer is to not smoke and to avoid secondhand smoke. 


Screening is looking for cancer before a person has any symptoms. This can help find cancer at an early stage. When cancer is found early, it may be easier to treat. By the time symptoms appear, cancer may have begun to spread.

Lung Cancer screening is recommended for people who are at high risk but have no symptoms.  Low-dose computed tomography (also called a low-dose CT scan) is the only recommended screening test. 

During an LDCT scan, you lie on a table and a machine uses a low dose (amount) of radiation to make detailed images of your lungs. The scan only takes a few minutes and is not painful.

Per U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommendation, you should be screened yearly for lung cancer with LDCT if you have

  1.     A history of heavy smoking, and
  2.     Smoke now or have quit within the past 15 years, and
  3.     Are between 55 and 80 years old.

Heavy smoking means a smoking history of 30 pack years or more. A pack year is smoking an average of one pack of cigarettes per day for one year. For example, a person could have a 30 pack-year history by smoking one pack a day for 30 years or two packs a day for 15 years.

Risks of Lung cancer screening:

  • A lung cancer screening test can suggest that a person has lung cancer when no cancer is present. This is called a false-positive result. False-positive results can lead to follow-up tests and surgeries that are not needed and may have more risks.
  • A lung cancer screening test can find cases of cancer that may never have caused a problem for the patient. This is called overdiagnosis. Overdiagnosis can lead to treatment that is not needed.
  • Radiation from repeated LDCT tests can cause cancer in otherwise healthy people.

That is why lung cancer screening is recommended only for adults who are at high risk for developing the disease because of their smoking history and age, and who do not have a health problem that limits their life expectancy or their ability or willingness to have lung surgery, if needed.

The Task Force recommends that yearly lung cancer screening needs to be stopped when the person being screened, 

 -Turns 81 years old, or

 -Has not smoked in 15 or more years, or

 -Develops a health problem that makes him or her unwilling or unable to have surgery if lung cancer is found.


Source: Center for Disease control and Prevention, National Cancer Institute. 

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