Skip Navigation
Menu Search
Johns Hopkins Medical Imaging

In This Section      

CT Lung Screening

Catching lung cancer early and treating it quickly leads to the best hope of beating the disease. But, most lung cancers are diagnosed at advanced stages when signs and symptoms are present, which makes them harder to treat. Lung cancer screening — a test that looks for possible cancer before you have symptoms — offers hope for early detection, when surgery is a potential cure.

A low-dose helical computed tomography (CT) scan of the chest is a rapid, painless exam that takes multiple 3-dimensional pictures of the chest by delivering X-rays in a spiral motion around the body. As compared to a traditional CT scan, a low-dose CT scan uses up to five times less radiation.

Who should be screened for lung cancer?

Lung cancer screening is for people at high risk of developing lung cancer so that it can be caught at an early stage, when the chances of beating this disease are the greatest. This high-risk group includes people who fit all of the following criteria:

  • Have a history of heavy smoking with at least 30 pack-year (e.g. a pack a day for 30 years or two packs a day for 15 years).
  • Are current smokers or former smokers who quit within the past 15 years.
  • Are between the ages of 55 and 77.

If you suspect that you’re at high risk for lung cancer, it’s important to talk to your primary care physician, who will determine whether screening is appropriate and order the exam. Read more about lung cancer screening at Johns Hopkins.

What do I prepare for a CT scan of the chest?

PRECAUTIONS: If you are pregnant or think you may be pregnant, please check with your doctor before scheduling the exam. Other options will be discussed with you by your doctor.

CLOTHING: You may be asked to change into a patient gown. A gown will be provided for you. Lockers are provided to secure your personal belongings. Please remove all piercings and leave all jewelry and valuables at home.

EAT/DRINK: There is no limitation to what you can eat or drink prior to this exam.

ALLERGIES: The chest CT scan is performed without iodinated CT contrast or additional medication.

What happens during a CT scan of the chest?

CT exams are quick and easy. Patients will need to lay still during the procedure and perform a breath-hold maneuver. You will lay flat on your back and the table will move slowly through the machine as the CT scan is performed. The scan itself will take a few seconds. Infrequently, additional scanning may be performed to ensure that diagnostic quality images are obtained.

What happens after a CT scan of the chest?

You can go back to your normal diet and activities. You will likely not need additional medication or special instructions. Talk with your health care provider and the radiology staff if you have any questions.