Lung Cancer Screening

Consider cancer screening to be something you do for yourself or for loved ones. Regular screening can help people live longer, healthier lives.

Lower your risk

If you are at risk for lung cancer, a simple 15-minute screening could have a big impact on your health. Studies show that regular screening can help people live longer, healthier lives. Ask your doctor if lung cancer screening is right for you.

Why should I get screened for lung cancer?

Arrow pointing up to suggest 8-fold increase in survival.

Finding lung cancer early makes a huge difference. The five-year survival rate is eight times higher if it’s found early than if it’s found late, when it has spread to other parts of the body. 

A major study of 100,000 lung cancer patients reported that people whose cancer was caught in the earliest stage have a five-year survival rate of 92%. 

In the early stages, however, lung cancer has no symptoms, so the best way to catch it early is to get screened. That’s why we recommend annual screening for everyone at high risk of lung cancer, even if you feel fine.

Who should get screened for lung cancer?

If you meet these guidelines, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that you get screened for lung cancer every year:

  • Heavy smokers (a pack a day or more) or former heavy smokers who quit less than 15 years ago
  • Age 50-80
  • Generally healthy

How does lung cancer screening work?

First, talk with your doctor about whether lung cancer screening is right for you.

If you decide to go ahead, your doctor will send us a referral and we’ll set up an appointment for a scan known as low-dose computed tomography (also called low-dose CT). The scanners use low-dose X-rays to make detailed images of your lungs.

The appointment takes about 15 minutes, and the scan itself takes about two minutes. The scanner looks like a big doughnut. You lie on a bed and the scanner rotates around you.

How much does it cost?

For most people, the cost is nothing if you meet the high-risk criteria. Medicare and most private insurance plans cover annual screening for everyone who meets the guidelines.

What if the scan shows a lung nodule?

If your scan shows a spot on the lung, it is probably a lung nodule. A nodule is a small growth in the lung. Lung nodules are common: About half the population has them. They range in size from 5 millimeters (the size of a pencil eraser) to 10 millimeters (the size of a pea) or bigger.

Most lung nodules are not cancer. They are usually caused by other things, like scar tissue from an old infection. They rarely cause problems, especially if they are small.

About 5% of lung nodules are cancer, however. A nodule is more likely to be cancer if:

  • The nodule is bigger.
  • You are older.
  • You have smoked cigarettes.

If your scan shows a lung nodule, we will talk with you about options. 

We may recommend active surveillance. This means coming back for regular scans to see if the nodule has changed or grown. A small nodule that’s stable probably isn’t cancer.

If the nodule is bigger or seems to be changing, we may recommend a procedure called a bronchoscopy to rule out cancer. 

What are the downsides of lung cancer screening?

Risks are low but important to know:

  • False positive: There is a small chance that screening will detect a lung nodule that is not cancer. This could lead to more tests or invasive procedures.
  • Overdiagnosis: There is a small chance that screening will detect a lung cancer that would not have caused you any problems. This could lead to unnecessary treatment.
  • Radiation exposure: Radiation from a CT scan raises the risk, though by a tiny amount, of developing cancer later. 

It’s important to talk with your doctor before you decide to get screened.

What else can I do for my health?


A logo consisting of a ring with text along it that says "Designated" and "American College of Radiology." In the middle of the ring there is text that reads "Lung Cancer Screening Center."

OHSU has been designated as a Lung Cancer Screening Center by the American College of Radiology.

To earn this award, OHSU met rigorous requirements for quality and safety. Learn more about ACR accreditation.

Contact us

Our nurse navigator can answer questions about scheduling. Call 503-418-1766 or email us at to get started.

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OHSU Diagnostic Imaging Clinic, Marquam Hill
3181 S.W. Sam Jackson Park Road
Portland, OR 97239

OHSU Diagnostic Imaging Clinic, South Waterfront
3303 S. Bond Ave.
Portland, OR 97239

OHSU Diagnostic Imaging Clinic, Beaverton
15700 S.W. Greystone Court
Beaverton, OR 97006

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