Low-Dose CT (LDCT) Screening for Lung Cancer

Physician pointing to tumor on x-ray

At Penn Medicine, we offer low-dose spiral CT (LDCT) lung screening to detect lung cancer early. Until the recent use of LDCT scans, lung cancer usually wouldn’t be found until a person developed symptoms, and by then the cancer was much harder to treat.

The National Lung Screening Trial (NLST), a group of researchers sponsored by the National Cancer Institute, conducted studies comparing two ways to detect lung cancer: a standard chest x-ray and the LDCT scan. The NLST found that lung cancer deaths dropped by 20 percent in individuals who underwent an LDCT scan compared to those screened solely by chest x-rays.

Low-Dose CT Screening Eligibility

The NLST recommends an LDCT screening for adults between the ages of 55 and 77 who:

  • Have a "30-pack-year" history of smoking (A “pack-year” is the number of packs of cigarettes smoked daily, multiplied by the number of years smoking, such as a pack a day for 30 years or 2 packs a day for 15 years.)
  • Meet the above criteria and currently smoke or have quit within the last 15 years
  • Have no symptoms or history of lung cancer

You won’t qualify for LDCT lung screening if you’re under active treatment for radiation or chemotherapy, have had a chest CT performed within a year, or have symptoms of active pulmonary infection or hemoptysis.

To determine if you or a loved one is an appropriate candidate for LDCT lung screenings, take our lung screening assessment.

Appointments are available at our downtown hospitals and suburban locations.

Frequently Asked Questions About the LDCT Scan

Am I a candidate for an LDCT lung screening?

The National Lung Screening Trial recommends annual screening for lung cancer with LDCT in people 55 through 80 years old with a 30 or more pack-year history of smoking who are currently smoking or have quit within the past 15 years.

Those who have symptoms of a lung condition at the time of screening, such as a new cough or shortness of breath, are not eligible. Additionally, individuals who have had a chest CT within the past year are not eligible. If that is the case, you will need to wait one year to have another screening and will need a prescription from your health care provider.

Do I need to have an LDCT lung screening exam every year?

Yes. If you are in a high-risk group, a lung screening exam is recommended every year until you reach age 77 or have stopped smoking over 15 years ago.

How is the exam performed?

LDCT lung screening is one of the easiest screening exams. No medications are given, and no needles are used. You must, however, be able to hold your breath for at least six seconds while the chest scan is being taken.

How much does the screening cost?

LDCT screening for lung cancer is covered by a growing number of insurance plans. You should check with your insurance carrier to see if coverage is provided.