What to Expect

Lung cancer screening is fast, easy and painless. And if you have insurance, most likely, it will be completely free of charge.* The process of a typical lung cancer screening goes like this. First, lung cancer screening candidates must meet the age and smoking history guidelines. Then the doctor refers the patient to a screening facility. This may be at a local hospital or a medical imaging facility. The screening facility schedules the appointment with the patient.

lung cancer screening
Someone being screened for lung cancer by CT scan.

The reason screening is not available to everyone is that there is radiation exposure. The benefits of screening outweigh the risks for those with a smoking history. But for others, the benefit has not been proven to outweigh the risk of this low-dose radiation exposure.

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Lung cancer screening underway by low-dose CT.

One of the problems with lung cancer screening is that the CT scan can detect very tiny nodules and abnormalities that are not cancer. Just understand that there is a high probability that you may have a “false positive” test result. That simply means they found a nodule that may or may not be cancer. Knowing this before being screened may provide you with some sense of peace, even if the initial results discover a nodule.

ct machine
CT machine is kind of like a big doughnut. No need to worry about being claustrophobic!

The CT scan will take only a couple of minutes. Usually there is no need to disrobe and put on a hospital gown because most facilities can do the CT scan while you are fully clothed. CT scan is not like a closed MRI. You should not experience claustrophobia with a CT scan, if you are prone to that condition.

Patients lie down on a medical table. The medical technician will give you instructions and leave the room during the actual scan. The technician will return to assist you off the table.

The facility will inform you about their notification process. If they do not tell you when to expect the results, ASK. “Scanxiety,” which is anxiety people experience concerning results of a scan, often sets in during the waiting process. So having a time frame of when to expect the results will help.

If a nodule is found, depending on the size and other factors, the doctor may recommend doing a follow-up CT scan in a few months. Or the doctor may suggest obtaining a biopsy to confirm or rule out cancer.

Also, most lung cancer screening programs offer a smoking cessation component to their program at no additional cost. So if you are a current smoker, you may find that service beneficial.

*NOTE: Effective February 5, 2015, lung cancer screening is covered by Medicare. 

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