Centers of Excellence

The Lung Center

About the Lung Cancer Screening Program for Current or Former Smokers

We are proud to offer a lung cancer screening program at Brigham and Women’s Hospital because lung cancer screening saves lives. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related death for men and women in the United States. The earlier the diagnosis, the better the outcome.

Our Lung Cancer Screening Program is led by a multidisciplinary team of thoracic surgeons, medical oncologists, pathologists, pulmonologists and radiation oncologists who’ve pioneered the most effective techniques in lung cancer treatment. We have deep experience in screening, diagnosing and treating all types of lung cancer, including non-small cell lung cancer and small cell lung cancer. If screening leads to a cancer diagnosis, our specialists, part of the Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center, will work together with you to tailor a treatment plan according to your cancer type, stage and unique situation. Our doctors are also engaged in medical research and developing cutting-edge medical and surgical approaches to improve patient health.

We offer lung cancer screening at Brigham and Women’s Hospital main campus and at Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital. If screening shows you may have a lung nodule (spot), an abnormality or another lung condition, we will provide follow-up testing and medical care at our main campus. Our expert teams offer innovative treatment options for all types of lung diseases.

Why is lung cancer screening important?

Lung cancer screening is an established test that checks people who are at moderate to high risk for developing lung cancer. This screening test can find lung cancer before a person has symptoms, which means it can usually be found early when it’s easier to treat and often cure. By the time a person has symptoms, lung cancer may have begun to spread. Even when a person does have symptoms, these may be mistaken for another illness or a side effect of smoking, which can lead to delays in diagnosis.

We use a low radiation dose CAT scan (also called an LDCT scan) to screen for lung cancer. This kind of screening has been shown to decrease the risk of death from lung cancer in smokers or former smokers in large prospective clinical trials. If you fit the criteria for lung cancer screening, please contact us today using the form below. We can answer questions and work with you to help you decide if screening is right for you. Our team supports you throughout the screening process, from counseling before your screening to explaining your test results. If the screening test shows you may have lung cancer or another lung condition, we will develop a care plan tailored to fit your needs and schedule.

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Should I be screened for lung cancer?

If you are between the ages of 55 and 80, answer these questions to find out if lung cancer screening is right for you:

  • Are you a current smoker?
  • Have you quit smoking within the last 15 years?
  • Do you have a tobacco smoking history of at least 30 years?
  • Are you unsure about how smoking has impacted your health or do you have other questions about lung cancer screening?

If you answer “yes” to at least one of the questions above, or if you have any questions, please fill out the form to speak with someone from the Lung Cancer Screening Program. A staff member from the Lung Center will follow up with you within 5 business days.

Infographic about when to be screened for lung cancer

How does the lung cancer screening test work?

The test is quick, easy and painless. During the scan, you lie in an CT machine that uses low-dose radiation to take pictures of your lungs at different angles. A computer linked to the CT machine collects and organizes the images to make detailed pictures of your lungs. The screening takes less than 15 minutes.

What do lung cancer screening results mean?

Most people who have the screening do not have cancer. Even if your screening tests are abnormal, you may not have cancer.

Following your screening a specialist reviews your scan to look for nodules, which are spots on your lungs. Nodules may be signs of other lung conditions or even benign (non-cancerous) growths. Most small nodules can be checked at yearly lung screenings. Large nodules or growing nodules are more likely to be cancer. If you have these kinds of nodules, you may need extra tests find out if you have lung cancer. For example, you may need a lung biopsy. A lung biopsy is when your doctor removes cells or tissues from a mass in your lungs to test for cancer.

Are there any risks involved in lung cancer screening?

Our team can help you weigh the benefits and risks of screening. Risks involved in screening include:

  • False-negatives. Sometimes a screening test result looks normal even though a person has lung cancer. There is a risk a person with a false-negative result may delay getting medical care even if they have symptoms.
  • False-positives. Sometimes a screening test result is abnormal, even if a person doesn’t have lung cancer. An abnormal screening test usually leads to more tests that can diagnose or exclude lung cancer. For example, if you have an abnormal screening test you may have a biopsy. The biopsy may then confirm that you do not have cancer.
  • Finding cancer that is too advanced to cure. If your cancer has spread, treatment may help but not be curative.
  • Finding cancer that may never harm you. Rarely, lung cancers grow slowly and may not cause symptoms or health problems until much later. It is hard to know which ones need to be removed quickly. This means you may go on to have cancer treatment that was not needed.
  • Finding other health problems. Your screening may show you have another lung condition that needs treatment.
  • Being exposed to low amounts of radiation. The LDCT scan uses much less radiation than a regular CT scan. It is estimated that the amount of radiation received during an LDCT is equivalent to that received by a passenger on a roundtrip flight to Europe. Over time, repeat exposure to radiation may increase the risk of developing cancer in some people, but that is extremely rare.

Is lung cancer screening covered by insurance?

Most private insurance plans cover screening for high-risk patients who are 55 to 80 years old. Check with your insurance plan to be sure you’re covered. Medicare covers yearly screenings for high-risk patients who are 55 to 77 years old. If you don’t have insurance, you may be able to get screening for free or at a low cost.

What are signs and symptoms of lung cancer?

Lung cancer signs and symptoms related to the lungs or breathing may include:

  • A cough that doesn’t go away or gets worse over time
  • Constant chest pain
  • Coughing up blood
  • Feeling short of breath
  • Getting repeat lung infections, like bronchitis or pneumonia
  • Having a hoarse voice
  • Wheezing

Other signs and symptoms may include:

  • Blood clots
  • Bone pain or fractures
  • Headaches
  • Losing your appetite
  • Weight loss 

Lung cancer is a very serious health concern caused in large part, but not entirely, by smoking. Francine L. Jacobson, MD, MPH, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, advises patients to stop smoking to decrease their risk of developing lung cancer. Even if you’ve stopped smoking, you may be at increased risk of developing lung cancer. If you’re 55 to 80 years old, the risk is high enough to warrant screening every year. Dr. Jacobson notes that one life is saved for every 320 lung cancer screenings.

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