Health Alert WEB EXCLUSIVE: Lung Cancer Screenings Part 2


Question: Are there any risks associated with a lung cancer screening?

Answer: The risks of low-dose CT scans (LDCT) can be divided into false positive or negative findings, overdiagnosis, incidental findings, radiation exposure and anxiety.

False Positive Findings: While LDCT screening for lung cancer can save lives, it has a high number of false positives, findings that appear abnormal but turn out to be non-cancerous. An example is a nodule caused by a scar or old infection. Up to 1/4 of patients screened will have a finding in the lungs that requires further testing, but the majority of these findings do not represent cancer. You may need further tests, most commonly a repeat CT scan. Your doctor may refer you to specialists at a multidisciplinary nodule clinic or request a PET scan, lung biopsy or surgery.

False Negative Findings: Screening may not pick up some cases of lung cancer. In the National Lung Screening Trial (NLST), about 4% of lung cancers were not detected at screening.

Over-Diagnosis: Screening can discover small lung cancers that may not cause you any harm in your lifetime but can result in further testing or surgery.

Incidental Findings: Other findings may be discovered in organs that are also imaged during LDCT, such as the heart, abdomen, blood vessels and thyroid gland. You may already be aware of some, and some might be new findings. These findings may require further testing.

Radiation Risk: As with all CT exams, LDCT screening for lung cancer exposes you to radiation. The dose is equal to about a quarter of the naturally occurring background radiation received at sea level per year. This dose is about 1/4 of a standard chest CT and about the same as a mammogram. It is difficult to document the exact amount of increased risk from radiation, but studies suggest that radiation slightly increases your incidence of cancer. Our team has extensive experience using the latest technology to detect lung cancer, and we are committed to minimizing radiation exposure for all exams.

Anxiety: Having an LDCT, waiting for the results and further evaluation for positive or incidental findings may cause stress and anxiety in some patients. Your doctor can discuss these risks with you and answer any questions that you may have.