LDCT 101: How Low-Dose CT Scans For Lung Cancer Screenings Work

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Radiology is known for being instrumental in saving the lives of many and, when it comes to lung cancer, early detection can make the difference between life and death. In order to better detect the early development of lung cancer, many radiology centers offer traditional CT scan screenings of the chest. Low-dose CT scans for lung cancer screening are a technique specifically recommended for detecting lung cancer in certain types of patients - traditionally those that are high-risk.  

How Does a CT Scan Work?

A computed tomography scan, most commonly referred to as a CT Scan (or CAT scan), is a popular noninvasive test that utilizes x-ray and computer technology. This combined technology serves as the perfect tool to produce multiple images or pictures of the inside of a body, which can later be manipulated by radiologists to examine specific areas.

CT scans are most commonly used to create clearer images than x-rays can produce alone. Specifically, CT scans are helpful when examining the chest, abdomen, pelvis, or an arm or leg. The scan also images body organs such as the liver, pancreas, intestines, kidneys, bladder, adrenal glands, sinuses, lungs, and heart. And, it can also study blood vessels, bones, the spinal cord and the brain in great detail.

What Is A Low-Dose CT Scan?

A low-dose spiral chest CT scan is different from a regular CT scan in only a few ways. The main difference is the amount of radiation emitted, which is over five times lower in a low-dose CT scan than that absorbed during a full-dose CT scan. This difference is very important in testing as radiation should always be avoided as much as possible.

Low-dose CT scans are generally used only on people with a very high-risk of developing or having lung cancer since the margin of error is usually too great with people who are low-risk, often resulting in more tests than necessary.

Low-Dose CT Scans For Lung Cancer Screenings

High-risk smokers who can withstand chest surgery are the most likely to benefit from low-dose CT scans. A high-risk smoker is classified as people age 55 to 80 who have a 30 “pack year” smoking history, meaning they’ve smoked a pack a day for 30 years, two packs a day for 15 years, or three packs a day for 10 years.

One of the biggest downsides to low-dose CT scans is that the procedure can be expensive, and insurance providers usually only pay for the test if the patient has a very high risk of developing lung cancer. That being said, for high-risk patients, these scans can be crucial in detecting early-stage lung cancer before it progresses.

Before deciding whether this test is right for you, speak to one of our specialists about the benefits and downsides of a low-dose CT scan for determining lung cancer. Getting screened by a CT scan is vital when treating lung cancer for smokers, and the earlier you get yourself screened the better chance you’ll have of effectively treating the disease.