What Do I Need to Know about Lung Cancer Screening? | American Lung Association

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What Do I Need to Know about Lung Cancer Screening?

You could be saved by the scan

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Key Points

  • Lung cancer screening can help find lung cancer at an early stage when it is easier to treat.
  • At this time, studies have shown that low-dose CT scan is the only lung cancer screening tool that reduces the risk of dying from lung cancer.
  • Lung cancer screening is not right for everyone.

One reason why lung cancer is so serious is because by the time you have symptoms, it may already have spread and become more difficult to treat. Screening is looking for cancer before you have any symptoms, which can help find cancer at an early stage when it may be easier to treat.

Scientists study screening tests to find those with the fewest risks and most benefits. They look at results over time to see if finding the cancer early decreases one's chances of dying from the disease. Three such screening tests include:

  • Chest X-ray: A plain X-ray of your chest. An X-ray of the organs and bones inside the chest. Chest X-ray is no longer recommended for screening.
  • Sputum cytology: Procedure in which a sample of mucus you cough up from the lungs (called sputum or phlegm) is looked at under a microscope to see if cancer cells are present.
  • Low-dose CT scan: A CT (or CAT) scan is a special kind of X-ray that takes many pictures as you lie on a table that slides in and out of the machine. A computer then combines these pictures into a detailed picture of your body.

Of these tests, studies showed that only low-dose CT (LDCT) scan reduced the risk of dying from lung cancer in high-risk populations. Chest X-ray and sputum cytology are two screening tests that have been used to check for signs of lung cancer, but do not decrease the risk of dying from lung cancer. At this time, low-dose CT is the only test recommended to screen for lung cancer.

Resources for You

You may have many questions when considering screening for lung cancer. These resources can help you understand lung cancer screening.

Help spread the word about the importance of lung cancer screening. Visit SavedByTheScan.org to share your screening story and learn how you can get involved.

Should You Get Screened for Lung Cancer?

Talk with a Loved One about Screening

Why Lung Cancer Screening Isn’t for Never Smokers

  • Read this Each Breath blog post to better understand how screening tests are developed and the science behind the high-risk criteria.

Tools for Scheduling a Screening

Lung Cancer Screening Insurance Coverage

For Health Professionals

Lung Association Position Statements

    External Resource

    Lung Cancer Screening Eligibility Quiz

    Learn more
    PDF Download

    Communicating with Your Lung Cancer Care Team

    PDF Download

    Is lung cancer screening right for me?

    PDF Download

    Lung Cancer Insurance Chart


    Approved by Scientific and Medical Editorial Review Panel. Last reviewed November 3, 2016.

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