Bloomington / Normal, IL

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Screening for Lung Cancer


Submitted by Christa Turner, BS, MT (ASCP), and Becky Powell, MS, RN, AOCN

Lung cancer is the most common cancer worldwide and is the leading cause of cancer death in the United States. Routine screening is recommended for three of the four deadliest cancers in the United States (prostate, breast, colorectal) but surprisingly, lung cancer has been excluded from regular screening. However, recent findings from the National Lung Screening Trial confirmed that screening individuals at high risk for lung cancer with a low-dose CT scan can saves lives by early detection.

Low-dose Computerized Tomography (LDCT) is a procedure that uses low-dose radiation to make a series of very detailed pictures of areas inside the body. The amount of radiation used in a screening CT scan is much lower than standard CTs, about the same as that received during a mammogram.

LDCT lung screening is a simple exam, taking only seconds to complete. No needles or medications are required. Patients may eat normally before and after the scan and do not need to change clothing unless it contains metal. Patients must, however, be able to hold their breath for at least 6 seconds while the scan is performed.

Studies have shown that LDCT lung screening can lower the risk of death from lung cancer by at least 20 percent among people who are at high risk for the disease. The United States Preventative Task Force and at least fifteen medical societies now recommend LDCT screening.

The Community Cancer Center is committed to raising awareness of lung cancer screening and improving access to early detection. We have developed an educational brochure based on National Comprehensive Cancer Network recommendations outlining who is at an increased risk for lung cancer and should get screened.  Individuals may qualify for lung screening if they fall into one of these groups:

Group 1

  •  55-74 years old
  • Current smoker or have quit within past 15 years
  • Have a 30 or more “pack year” history of smoking

Group 2

  • 50 years or older
  • Have a 20 or more “pack year” history of smoking
  • Have one additional lung cancer risk factor, not including secondhand smoke exposure*

The formula to calculate “pack year” history of smoking is: Number of packs per day x years of smoking = pack years. Example:  2 packs per day x 15 years = 30 pack years

Additional risk factors include:

  • Radon exposure
  • Occupational exposure to chemicals such as silica, cadmium, asbestos, arsenic, beryllium, chromium, diesel fumes, nickel, coal smoke, and soot
  • Personal history of lung cancer, lymphoma, cancers of the head and neck, or other smoking related cancer
  • Family history of lung cancer
  • Personal history of COPD or pulmonary fibrosis

Lung cancer screening is not for individuals who already have signs or symptoms of possible lung cancer such as a cough that does not go away, unexplained weight lost, or coughing up blood. Anyone with these symptoms should seek medical care immediately. 

Since lung cancer screening for high-risk patients is still a newer concept, patients are encouraged to check with their insurance provider regarding coverage for the test. People also need to understand that if an abnormality is found, additional testing will be required. If you feel you meet the above criteria, talk to your primary care physician about referring you to a facility that offers lung cancer screening.

Finally, we have an opportunity to detect lung cancer early and save lives!

For more information, go to the Community Cancer Center website: or call 309-451-2218.

Photo credit: schmidtchen/iStock