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Low-dose CT at UPMC Altoona

Imaging Services: Low-dose CT
Lung cancer is the second most-diagnosed cancer in men and women, killing more than 150,000 Americans a year. With less than a 16 percent five-year survival rate, it accounts for 30 percent of all cancer deaths in America.

Recently, low-dose computed tomography (CT) screening became a recommended screening tool for detecting early-stage lung cancer in people considered to be at high risk for the disease.

"This is the tool we have needed to reverse the odds of beating lung cancer and turn them more in our favor." — Mehrdad Ghaffari, MD, medical director of UPMC Altoona’s Department of Pulmonary Services.

Q. Do I need a physician’s order to have the CT screening performed?

A. Yes, a physician’s order for a low-dose CT scan must be obtained to verify that benefits from the scan outweigh the risk of radiation exposure. Radiation exposure is cumulative, so patients need to be aware of lifetime exposures. However, one low-dose CT scan gives you one-eighth the radiation of a regular CT, almost equal to the radiation exposure received during a mammogram, and with the potential to be just as lifesaving.

Q. How do you know if you are at risk for lung cancer and should have a low-dose CT screening?

A. Discuss your health history with your physician to see if the benefits of screening outweigh the risks. Your doctor will consider these criteria for screening established by the U.S. Preventive Task Force:
  • Current or former smoker
  • Age 55-74
  • A smoking history of 30 “pack years” (number of packs a day times number of years of smoking)
  • Exposure to radon
  • Exposure to cancer-causing agents, such as silica, cadmium, asbestos, arsenic, beryllium, chromium, diesel fumes, or nickel
  • Having had lung cancer before or radiation to the chest
  • A family history of lung cancer
  • COPD or emphysema

Q. What are possible symptoms of lung cancer?

A. A visible sign or symptom of lung cancer may be shortness of breath, chronic cough, coughing up blood, or chronic bronchitis. If a patient tells a primary care physician he is experiencing one or more of these problems, the family physician is likely to order a CT scan.

Q. What is the difference between low-dose CT and a chest x-ray?

A. Cancer research studies have shown that lung cancer can be detected earlier using a low-dose CT scan. Earlier detection and earlier treatment produce better survival rates, in most cases.

Unlike a chest x-ray, which produces flat, two-dimensional images of the lungs, a CT scanner can explore the entire lung area by taking a continuing series of x-rays in a spiral around the chest. These images can be examined on a computer in “slices” and reconstructed in three dimensions, giving detailed information about the volume and shape of lung nodules.

Q. If the scan comes back “negative,” do I ever have to be re-screened?

A. Yes. A “negative” result means no abnormal findings were found at this screening. It does not mean you absolutely do not have lung cancer or that you will never get lung cancer. Because needs are individualized, a screening schedule should be discussed with your doctor.

Q. Will my health insurance cover the test?

A. Since this is a recommendation approved by the U.S. Preventive Task Force and based on the Affordable Care Act, health insurances should cover all screenings, but it is best to check with your plan administrator to be certain.

Q. Where can I get more information?

A. The American Lung Association has information at www.lung.org. Do a search for “CT screening.”

Q. Does UPMC Altoona offer the screening?

A. Yes. After obtaining an order from your doctor, call 889-4222 to schedule your lung cancer screening.

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