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Lung Cancer Screening — A Yearly Test Could Save Your Life

Lung cancer causes 1 in 5 cancer deaths in the U.S. Lung cancer screening can help you beat these odds. An annual test that’s quick and painless could add years to your life. 

Lung cancer screening catches lung cancer early, before symptoms appear. This is when treatment is most effective and you have the best chance for a good outcome. If you have a history of smoking or other risk factors, talk to your doctor to find out if screening is right for you.

What is lung cancer screening?

The most effective tool for lung cancer screening is a low-dose CT scan. A CT scan is an imaging exam that takes detailed pictures of your lungs. A low-dose CT scan uses a smaller amount of radiation than a traditional CT scan, making it a safe yearly test. 

A lung CT scan is a painless, non-invasive procedure. It only takes a few minutes, and you don’t have to do anything to prepare for the test. You can return to your usual activities immediately after the test. 

We send the images of your lungs to our team of experienced radiologists. They examine the scans for signs of cancer or other diseases, such as lung nodules (abnormal growths on your lung tissue). Even if we find a lung nodule, it doesn’t mean you have cancer. In fact, most lung nodules aren’t cancerous. But a positive scan (one that shows something abnormal) means you might need more tests.

Who should get a lung cancer screening?

You’re eligible for yearly screening if you are between 50 and 77 years of age, without serious health problems and meet the following lung cancer screening criteria: 

  • Smoke currently or quit smoking within the last 15 years
  • Have at least a 20 pack-year smoking history (If you smoked 1 pack or 20 cigarettes per day for 1 year, that’s 1 pack-year. You can calculate your pack history here.)

You need a referral from your health care provider for a lung cancer screening. Your provider will refer you to the outpatient imaging location closest to you if you qualify.

FAQs about lung cancer screening

Get answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about lung cancer screening.

  • No, you don’t have to stop smoking, but we encourage you to do so. Quitting smoking can add up to 10 years to your life. If you want to quit but don’t know where to start, talk to your primary care physician about a smoking cessation program. You can also call the Washington State Tobacco Quitline at 1-877-270-7867.

  • There is no cost for lung cancer screening for most people. Medicare, Medicaid and most commercial insurance plans cover yearly screenings for high-risk individuals with a physician’s referral. But it’s always important to check your coverage before receiving your lung CT scan.

  • Annual lung cancer screening allows us to see changes in your lungs over time. It also increases the likelihood that we’ll spot cancer before symptoms develop. If you are at a high risk for lung cancer, get a screening every year.

  • No. Lung cancer screening is only for people who are at a high risk of developing lung cancer, which is a guideline based on extensive research. Studies show that screening in people who are not at a high risk poses more risks than benefits. 

    If you don’t qualify for lung cancer screening but are still concerned about your risk, talk to your primary care provider. There are many ways you can reduce your risk of lung cancer: 

    • Don’t smoke.
    • Avoid secondhand smoke.
    • Test your home for radon, an odorless gas that can cause lung cancer.
    • Reduce your exposure to hazardous materials at work, such as diesel engine exhaust.
  • Lung cancer screening does carry some risks, including:

    • False positives: We may find something abnormal in your lungs that, upon further testing, is not actually a form of lung disease. False positives can lead to unnecessary medical procedures and stress. 
    • Overdiagnosis: We might find a disease that isn’t life-threatening, such as a very slow-growing lung tumor. So you may receive invasive or stressful treatment for a condition that isn’t dangerous. 
    • Radiation exposure: Low-dose CT scans use a very small amount of radiation, about the same amount of radiation you would get from living around the Puget Sound at sea level for six months. However, evidence shows that the benefits of annual screening outweigh the risks of radiation exposure. 

    To address these risks, a team of lung nodule experts will review your scan if there are any concerning findings, to make sure that we offer you the most careful approach to your lung health.

Why choose VMFH for lung cancer screening?

At Virginia Mason Franciscan Health, we offer the most advanced tools for screening, diagnosing and treating lung cancer and other lung diseases. People throughout the Puget Sound choose us for our:  

  • Convenient locations: Our outpatient imaging locations throughout the region make it easy to find lung cancer screening near you. Every location shares the same commitment to safety and high-quality testing, so you can trust the care you receive. 
  • Specialized expertise: Experienced lung imaging specialists interpret your scan results. Pulmonologists, lung surgeons and radiologists evaluate positive scans, so you receive a diagnosis and treatment recommendations from a team of experts. 
  • Innovative treatments: We offer the most sophisticated techniques for lung cancer diagnosis and treatment. Robotic-assisted bronchoscopy allows us to biopsy lung nodules without incisions (cuts) or needle punctures in your chest. We also offer minimally invasive thoracic (chest and lung) surgery, so you recover faster and with less pain.

Learn more about lung cancer screening

If you answer 'yes' to all of the five questions below, you may be a good candidate for lung cancer screening:

  1.  Are you between the ages of 50 and 77?
  2.  Do you currently smoke cigarettes, or did you quit less than 15 years ago
  3.  Do you have more than a 20 pack-year history (Calculate your pack-year history here)?
  4.  Do you have a primary care provider?
  5.  Are you willing to get an annual scan as long as you meet the screening criteria?

Contact your primary care provider or find a primary care provider near you to learn more about lung cancer screening at Virginia Mason Franciscan Health.

For questions about lung cancer screening, contact one of our locations below: