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What is a lung scan?

A lung scan is an imaging test to help in the diagnosis of certain lung conditions or to follow the progression of certain diseases or how well a treatment for a lung disease is working. If lung cancer is suspected, a doctor might order the following tests:

  • A chest x-ray may be the first test the doctor will order to look for masses or spots on the lungs.
  • A computed tomography (CT) scan might be the next test. This test is better at detecting lung tumors than a simple x-ray because it provides a more detailed image of cross-sectional pictures of the body. A doctor may also use a CT scan as a guide while doing a lung biopsy.
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) or PET (positron emission tomography) scans produce chest images that help doctors determine the nature, position or extent of a mass.

In a nuclear medicine lung scan, a radioactive substance is used during the procedure to assist in examining the flow of air in and out of the lungs (ventilation scan) or the blood flow within the lungs (perfusion scan). The radiation emitted by the substance is detected by a scanner, which uses it to create pictures of the lungs. The radioactive substance will collect at spots of abnormal blood flow in a perfusion scan. In a ventilation scan, the substance will identify areas through which air cannot move. These types of lung scans are often used to diagnose blood clots within the blood vessels of the lungs. However, imaging for blood clots in the lungs has essentially been replaced by CT imaging.

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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.