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A two-minute scan can make all the difference
At Northwell Health, our screening experts are trained in detecting lung cancer in its earliest and most treatable stages—so that you can act before the disease has a chance to spread.
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Lung cancer screening is a regular preventive health check, much like a mammogram or colonoscopy, used to test for lung cancer before you have symptoms. 

Lung cancer screening is recommended for people who are at high risk. You may be eligible if you are 55 to 77 years old and a smoker or former smoker who quit within the last 15 years.

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Overview

What is a lung cancer screening test?

Lung cancer screening uses low-dose CT scan technology to detect lung cancer at its earliest stages.

Without screening, lung cancer is usually not found until a person develops symptoms—which is when it's much less likely to be curable.

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Benefits

What are the benefits of lung cancer screening?

Lung cancer screening can find cancer before it causes symptoms, which is when it is in its most curable stage. Unfortunately, once a person develops symptoms, the lung cancer may not respond to treatment.

A recent study funded by the National Cancer Institute, the , found that low-dose CT lung cancer screening resulted in 20% fewer lung cancer deaths compared to screening with a standard chest X-ray. More of the lung cancers detected by low-dose CT were at an earlier stage than those detected by chest X-ray.

You will only benefit fully if you continue with annual screening until age 77 or until you have quit smoking for 15 years.

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What to expect

What happens during my appointment? 

You will meet with a healthcare provider to discuss the benefits and potential risks of lung cancer screening, and whether the test is right for you. 

During the test, you will lie on your back on the CT scan table. The table will move in and out of a donut-shaped machine that generates low-dose X-ray beams. You will be asked to hold your breath for a few seconds. The procedure takes approximately two minutes, and you may leave once it is completed. 

No medications are given and no needles are used. You can eat before and after the exam. You do not even need to change clothes as long as the  clothing on your chest does not contain metal. 

Your results are reviewed by our team of screening experts—radiologists, pulmonologists and thoracic surgeons—and we'll have your results ready within 48 hours. 

We are here to answer any questions you may have and assist with any necessary follow-up appointments.

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Risks

What are the risks of lung cancer screening? 

There are a few risks to lung cancer screening, including: 

False positive result

Screenings can sometimes find something in the lungs that appears to be cancer but isn't. This is called a false positive. To make sure these findings are not cancer, you may need to have more tests done, which are only performed with your permission. In most instances, patients require additional follow-up CT scan; occasionally, patients need a biopsy or other procedure that can have potential side effects.

False negative result

No test, including the lung cancer screening, is perfect. It is possible that you may have lung cancer that is not found during your exam. This is called a false negative.

Detection of other health issues

Your lung cancer screening exam also captures images of areas next to and around your lungs. In a small percentage of cases (approximately 5% to 10%), the CT scan will show an abnormal finding in one of these areas, such as your kidneys, adrenal glands, liver, heart vessels or thyroid. This finding may not be serious, but you may need to be examined further. Your healthcare provider who ordered your exam can help determine what, if any, additional testing you need.

Radiation exposure

A lung cancer screening test uses radiation to create images of your lungs. Radiation can increase a person's risk of cancer. We use special techniques to ensure the amount of radiation in low-dose CT lung cancer screening is minimized—about the normal amount received from the sun in a year. The benefits of the screening outweigh the risks of being exposed to the small amount of radiation from this exam.

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Frequency

Do I need to have a lung cancer screening every year?

Yes. If you are at high risk for lung cancer, a screening is recommended every year until you are 77 years old or more than 15 years smoke-free.

Results

How and when do I get my results? 

Typically, the results of your lung cancer screening are available within one to two business days. A physician assistant or nurse practitioner will contact you to review your results and discuss any recommended follow up. 

What can I expect from the results?

PK˛ĘƱ one out of four lung cancer screening tests will find something in the lungs that may require additional imaging or evaluation. Most of the time, these findings are lung nodules (very small densities in the lungs). These nodules are very common, and the vast majority of them—more than 97%—are not cancer. Most are normal lymph nodes or small areas of scarring from past infections.

Less commonly, lung nodules are cancer. If a small lung nodule is found to be cancer before symptoms appear, there is a more than 90% chance of curing the cancer. 

To distinguish the large number of benign, noncancerous nodules from the few nodules that are, in fact, cancer, we may require more tests before your next yearly screening exam. If the nodule has suspicious features, such as a large size, an odd shape or growth over time, we will refer you to a specialist for further testing.

Will my doctor also receive the results?

Yes. The healthcare provider who ordered your lung cancer screening will receive a copy of your results.

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Referrals

Do I need a referral? 

If you are eligible for screening, it is not necessary to have a referral. We encourage you to discuss lung cancer screening with your primary care physician (PCP). Many of our patients are referred by their PCP. 

Give us a call and we can help you understand if you are eligible. Your results can still be shared with any physicians involved in your care, at your discretion.

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Insurance

Will my insurance cover lung cancer screening?

Lung cancer screening is covered by most insurance plans and Medicare if you meet the eligibility criteria.

Smoking

If I quit smoking several years ago, am I still at risk for getting lung cancer?

The risk you have accumulated by smoking never completely disappears, but quitting helps decrease that risk. How much risk you have depends on many factors such as how many years you smoked, how many cigarettes you smoked per day, and at what age you started to smoke. It is important to remember that there are many benefits to quitting smoking that are just as important as decreasing your risk from dying of lung cancer, including decreasing the risk of heart attack and stroke.

What if I still smoke?

If you are a current smoker, the best way to prevent lung cancer is to stop smoking and get screened annually. Here are some resources for help to stop smoking: 

- (516) 466-1980
- (866) NY-QUITS (866-697-8487)

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Before symptoms crop up, consider going for an annual screening which can detect lung cancer at its earliest and most treatable stages.