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Can a CT scan help someone at risk for lung cancer?

The National Lung Screening Trial, sponsored by the National Cancer Institute, compared CT screening with traditional x-ray for those at high risk of developing lung cancer in a 2010 study. The dramatic results showed a greater than 10 percent reduction in mortality for high-risk individuals who underwent a CT scan.

With this screening we are finding more early stage cancers, which can be treated with minimally invasive surgery to remove the tumor before it spreads.

Dr. Brian D. Gelbman, MD
Pulmonary Disease Specialist

CT scans are better at finding lung cancer than x-rays, since CT scans provide a 3D, high-definition reconstruction of the lungs and can detect cancers at early stages. Watch pulmonologist Brian Gelbman, MD, discuss how these screenings differ.

Not exactly. The CT scan is usually obtained after a suspicious spot is seen on a chest x-ray. Doctors can generally "see more" of the chest anatomy with a CT scan than they can with a chest x-ray and may get a better idea of whether a spot is malignant (cancer) or benign (scar or infection). However, a definite diagnosis of cancer can only be when a piece of the mass is removed (a biopsy) and examined under the microscope.

If your doctor thought your chest x-ray showed lung cancer, a computed tomography imaging (CT scan) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test can help him confirm the diagnosis.

CT and MRI scans use computerized pictures to show very detailed three-dimensional and cross-sectional images of the body. They can reveal the size, shape and location of a tumor. They can tell your doctor if a tumor has spread from the lung to lymph nodes or to other parts of your body.

Low-dose CT chest scans can reduce the risk of cancer deaths in smokers by up to 20 percent. In this video, nuclear medicine supervisor Wes Fox, of Trident Medical Center, explains how this CT scan works.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.