Lung Cancer Screening Program 

Early diagnosis and treatment of lung cancer is the best way to achieve a successful outcome.

The Lung Cancer Screening Program at Houston Methodist Lung Center is used for early detection and diagnosis of lung cancer in high-risk individuals. The screening program is integrated with the Houston Methodist Cancer Center to provide expertise to all screening patients who need cancer treatment.   

The program includes:

• Annual low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) scans
• Health care consultations
Tobacco cessation programs
• Referrals to Houston Methodist specialists

Benefits of Lung Cancer Screening
We are able to detect lung cancer at an early stage because LDCT lung cancer screening works. The National Lung Screening Trial, sponsored by the National Cancer Institute, demonstrated a 20 percent reduction in lung cancer mortality compared to chest radiographs. As a result, major medical societies and organizations now recommend lung cancer screening, and insurance companies and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) will cover the cost.  

Who should be screened?
Houston Methodist follows these CMS screening guidelines:

• Individuals ages 55 to 77 who smoke or who quit smoking within the last 15 years
• Individuals who have a 30 “pack year” history (for example, an average of one pack a day for 30 years, or two packs a day for 15 years)
• Individuals who receive a written order from a physician or qualified non-physician practitioner 

Lung Cancer Screening Process
Your screening will involve a single-breath-hold LDCT scan of your lungs, which a board-certified radiologist will read. A Houston Methodist health care professional will discuss the results with you and develop an evaluation plan if your screening reveals something suspicious.

What happens if something is found in the screening?
Lung screening LDCT scan results range from showing no disease to suspicious for cancer. Based on published studies, more than 95 percent of suspicious nodules are not cancer.  

A positive result does not mean that you have cancer. In fact, the majority of suspicious findings that result in positive screenings are not cancer (called false positive studies). False positives occur because other findings like a small focal pneumonia or scar can resemble a cancer on an LDCT. Even so, the National Lung Screening Trial (NLST) showed that despite false positives, the LDCT scan is a breakthrough method in early lung cancer detection. Additionally, many projects are underway to improve screening and reduce false positive rates, such as standardized and structured reporting using lung imaging reporting and data systems (LungRADS). Currently, these are lowering false positives 10 to 15 percent.

A positive screening LDCT may require further workup to determine whether the suspicious finding is a cancer, which often is confirmed by a biopsy.

Who is not a candidate for screening?
• Individuals with a lung cancer history
• Individuals with an unexplained weight loss greater than 15 pounds in the past year
• Individuals with a history of coughing up blood
• Individuals who have not smoked a cigarette in more than 15 years

However, if you have symptoms or a problem that requires a diagnostic CT scan, one will be ordered for you instead of a screening LDCT scan. 

Radiation from the scan is potentially harmful, so only patients with the highest lung cancer risk will be considered for screening.

If a nodule is diagnosed, you will undergo evaluation. Your doctors will try to avoid unnecessary invasive tests while evaluating these nodules.

As part of the lung cancer screening process, you will consult with a health care provider to understand the process (a shared decision about screening) and obtain an order for the screening LDCT scan. Smoking cessation consultation also is available.

How do I make an appointment?

Call Houston Methodist at 713.441.LUNG (5864) to discuss screening criteria or schedule an appointment.

Learn more about lung cancer screening from a Houston Methodist physician. Read “10 Things to Know About Lung Cancer Screenings” by Reginald Munden, MD, chair of the Department of Radiology at Houston Methodist.