Screening program for those at high risk for lung cancer

A lung cancer screening can detect the disease at a very early stage, when it's more likely to be cured. A study conducted by the National Cancer Institute proved that screening people at high risk of lung cancer with low-dose computerized tomography (CT) scans reduced the chance of death from lung cancer by 20%. The study also estimated that early detection and treatment of lung cancer could save more than 70,000 lives a year.

If you’re at high risk for lung cancer, a low-dose CT scan at a nearby Baylor Scott & White Health facility could catch your condition before it advances. Screening takes only a few minutes and is recommended for older adults with a long history of smoking but no symptoms of cancer yet.

Who should be screened for lung cancer?

The US Preventive Services Task Force screening guidelines were updated in 2021 to recommend screenings for people who:

  • Are 50-80 years old
  • Smoking history of 20 pack years or more (one pack year is defined as smoking one pack of cigarettes a day for a year or an equivalent amount)
  • Currently smoke or have quit smoking within the past 15 years
  • Have no symptoms

Lung cancer screening charges will be billed to the patient’s insurance plan for those who meet the screening criteria and have a physician’s order.

Talk to your doctor if you meet the screening criteria to determine if you need a low-dose lung CT scan.

Advantages and disadvantages of low-dose CT scans

The benefits of using low-dose screens for lung cancer include:

  • Early detection of lung cancer
  • Improved survival for lung cancer
  • Detection of other medical conditions requiring treatment

Disadvantages include:

  • Radiation exposure (but very low dose)
  • Anxiety
  • Additional testing or treatment for benign findings
  • Complications from diagnostic workup

What to expect during a CT scan

The CT scan takes just a few seconds, and the whole exam takes less than 10 minutes.

  • During your screening

    During the CT scan, you will lie on your back on a table that moves while the scanner takes pictures of your chest.

    You will be asked to hold your breath at certain times.

    Your physician will discuss the results with you. If an abnormality is found, your medical team will study features of the nodule to determine if likely to be cancerous.

  • After your screening

    Following your scan, the images are reviewed by a doctor who specializes in diagnosing lung cancer through imaging tests.

    There are a number of possible results, such as:

    • No abnormalities discovered. In this case your doctor will recommend another screening CT in a year.
    • Lung nodules. Small spots might appear in the lungs that could be early lung cancer, but could also be scars from old lung infections or other noncancerous growths.
      • Most small nodules don’t need immediate attention and can be followed up by CT in six or 12 months depending on size.
      • Larger or suspicious nodules might require additional testing, such as three-month follow-up CT, PET scan or biopsy.

    Other findings such as heart disease, emphysema or infection could require medical attention.

    Specialists on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White facilities provide crucial follow-up care and treatment guidance if your physician discovers a lung nodule or lesion. Your team will do a comprehensive assessment of your condition, discuss your concerns and questions, and develop a plan of care.

    The US Preventive Services Task Force recommends that you stop getting screenings when you turn 81 years old or have not smoked for at least 15 years.

    Talk to your healthcare provider to determine how long screening should continue.

"The mailer caught my eye. The CT screening caught my lung cancer."

Pacientes reales. Historias reales.

It was just a postcard, but for Barney Brinkmann, the Baylor Scott & White mailer was a godsend. It recommended lung cancer screening for some former smokers. Barney fit the criteria. "I should do this," he decided, despite having no symptoms. It's a good thing he did. His CT scan revealed what turned out to be cancer.

Days later, he had surgery to remove part of one lung. "If the tumor had grown just a few millimeters larger, I would have needed chemo too." Barney's happy to report that he's currently free of disease. "The postcard said early detection of lung cancer could help save about 70,000 lives a year. That's why I'm spreading the word."