What is low-dose CT scan?

If you are at risk for lung cancer, a low-dose CT scan provides a quick and painless way to check for cancer. This test is the most advanced screening available for people between 55 and 80 with a history of smoking. A low-dose CT scan finds nodules and abnormalities in the lungs. When we spot lung cancer early, we can treat and cure up to 90 percent of cases. 


Who is eligible for low-dose CT scans?

People at high risk benefit the most from this screening. You are eligible if you are:

  • A current or former smoker who quit within the past 15 years

  • A former smoker who smoked at least one pack per day for 20 years or more but quit less than 15 years ago

  • Between the ages of 50 and 80

  • Currently smoking and smoke at least one pack a day for 20 years or more 

  • Exhibiting no symptoms of lung cancer

Who sets these guidelines? 

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force sets the screening guidelines for lung cancer. The task force makes recommendations about the effectiveness of specific preventive care services for patients without related symptoms. It weighs the benefits and harm from each screening service before making a decision.

Treatment process

What happens during a low-dose CT screening?

Before your CT scan, you receive instructions on how to prepare. You should:

  • Eat and drink normally before your test

  • Remove all jewelry and metal objects

  • Wear comfortable clothes without metal zippers or snaps

During the test you will:

  • Lie down on a moveable bed that slides into the CT scanner

  • Hold your breath for 10 to 20 seconds at certain times

  • Remain as still as possible 

The CT scanner is a large donut-shaped chamber. An X-ray tube and a detector sit inside. These devices send information to a computer. The radiation used is more than a chest X-ray but less than a regular CT scan. As the bed slides through the donut hole, the CT scanner takes X-ray pictures of your chest. 

The test takes about 10 minutes.

What happens if the scan shows an abnormality? 

 Low-dose CT screenings often find nodules in the lungs. Up to 95 percent of them are not cancerous. If your CT scan shows an abnormality, your doctor will help you schedule further testing. You will likely need a follow-up appointment with a pulmonary medicine doctor.

The exact type of additional testing depends on the size and shape of the abnormal nodule.

Patient resources

What you should know about low-dose CT scans

You can learn more about low-dose CT scans for lung cancer screening by watching the video below:

Set up your screening 

Talk with your doctor if you want a lung cancer screening. You must get a doctor’s referral for a low-dose CT scan lung cancer screening.

Check with your health insurance plan about coverage. Medicare covers the screening for certain patients up to age 77. 

Meet our team

An experienced team by your side

The lung cancer screening team at the UW Health | Carbone Cancer Center includes experts in oncology and radiology.

Radiology/Chest CT scan

Treatment locations

Lung cancer screening locations

We offer specialized low-dose CT scans for lung cancer screening at UW Health clinics in Madison, Wis. and Rockford, Ill.

Learn more about this treatment

Call now: (608) 890-5600