Pros and Cons

As part of your Lung Health Check you may be offered a lung CT scan to check for any change in your lungs that might need treatment. One of the particular things we are looking for is any early signs of lung cancer. Checking for cancer in this way is called screening. You may have heard of screening for other types of cancer such as breast cancer or bowel cancer. For all types of cancer screening, there are benefits but also some downsides. When you come for your Lung Health Check, we will explain these to you so that you can make up your own mind and decide for yourself if you would like a scan. Some information about Lung Cancer Screening is shown below.

What are the benefits of lung cancer screening?
When lung cancer is found through screening it is usually very small and only in the lungs. This means treatment can cure most patients. When lung cancer is found by screening and is successfully treated, people live an average of ten years longer than people who have cancer found in other ways.

What might the CT scan show?
In about 3 out of a 100 people the scan will show evidence of a lung cancer. This will often be an early stage cancer that can we can treat and cure.

20 out of every 100 people will have one or more lung nodules on their CT scan. Most nodules are tiny harmless scars from previous chest infections. Very occasionally (about 1 in 100 chance) a nodule will grow and turn out to be a lung cancer. If you have a nodule on your scan, we will ask you to come back for another scan in a few months to check it isn’t growing. A nodule can cause some people to worry. If you would like to talk to our doctors and nurses they will always be available to discuss any concerns.

Are there any risks from a CT scan?
CT scanners use a small amount of radiation to produce pictures of your lungs. Exposure to radiation can itself cause problems (very rarely actually causing cancer). By using very modern CT scanners we can reduce the amount of radiation needed. Our scanner uses levels of radiation that are about the same as those found in the environment over the past year. The chance of the scan saving your life by finding an early cancer is much greater than the risk of the scan causing you any harm.

What will happen after the scan?
An expert team of doctors will check your CT scan. We will write to you with your results within the next 4 weeks. If you have a small nodule we will contact you about having another scan in a few months. If you need any other tests or treatment you may need to come to a hospital clinic. Sometimes these tests include extra scans or biopsies.
The team of doctors will make sure you are only sent for tests that are necessary. Occasionally, people may have tests or treatments for findings that were not needed. This is because the finding later turns out to be benign (not a cancer) or is a harmless type of lung cancer (that would not cause problems even if left alone). This is rare but it is important you are aware of this possibility before having the scan. We will take your wishes into account at every step of the process. All decisions about tests or treatment will be made jointly by you and your doctor or nurse.

How accurate is CT screening?
CT scanning is very accurate but not perfect. Very occasionally, the screen will give a normal result, but will fail to pick up an existing cancer. Also rarely, a cancer can develop between screening scans. It is very important that you tell your GP if you develop any new chest symptoms after any of your CT scans. If necessary your GP can arrange extra tests before your next CT scan.