Get Screened

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Get Screened

Early Detection
with Low-Dose CT Scanning

The low-dose CT scan can reduce the risk of dying from lung cancer for people who are at high risk of the disease.

New recommendations from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force increase the number of people eligible for lung cancer screening with low-dose CT scans. The guidelines now include people:

  • Ages 50-80
  • Who have smoked at least a pack a day for 20 years or more (20 pack-years)
  • Who still smoke or have quit within the past 15 years

The new guidelines lower the age to start screening from 55 to 50. They also lower the amount of tobacco use at which a person becomes eligible from 30 pack-years to 20 pack-years.

The Task Force is an independent, volunteer panel of national experts in prevention and evidence-based medicine. Members come from all fields of preventive medicine and primary care and make evidence-based recommendations about preventive services, including screenings, to improve the health of all Americans.

US Preventive Services Task Force Recommendation Statement

A low-dose computed tomography – or LDCT – scan is a special kind of X-ray that takes multiple pictures as you lie on a table that slides in and out of the machine. A computer then combines these images into a detailed picture of your lungs.*

*American Lung Association

You must meet certain criteria to be considered at “high risk” for developing lung cancer.

Annual lung cancer screening is recommended if:

  • You are 50-80 years of age
  • You have a 20 pack-year history of smoking (meaning one pack a day for 20 years, two packs a day for 10 years, etc.)
  • You smoke currently, or have quit within the last 15 years
  • You have no signs or symptoms of lung cancer

Take the American Lung Association’s Lung Cancer Screening Eligibility Quiz if you are unsure about whether or not you are eligible.

Right now, insurance will only pay for lung cancer screening if you meet the eligibility criteria.

U.S. Preventive Services 

Early detection is critical when it comes to treating lung cancer, but screening is not for everyone. If you are not in the high-risk group described above, research has shown that the benefits of screening may not outweigh the risks. Talk to your doctor to learn about other ways you can reduce your lung cancer risk outside of screening.

  • LDCT can find cancer at an early stage when it can usually be effectively treated and when more treatment options are available.
  • LDCT will detect cancer before you have any symptoms.

False alarm (a result that looks like cancer, but is not cancer)

  • Most false alarms only require another LDCT in 6-12 months.
  • Rarely, a false alarm can lead to an invasive procedure like a biopsy or surgery.
  • Invasive procedures sometimes cause serious complications.

False normal (a result that looks normal, but is actually cancer)

  • Sometimes the LDCT will give a falsely normal result.

Over treatment

  • Sometimes LDCT finds a slow growing cancer that would not lead to illness or death.

Radiation exposure

  • LDCT exposes people to a small amount of radiation that might slightly increase the risk of cancer.

American Cancer Society 

A lung nodule is found: Lung nodules are small growths in the lungs, which may or may not be cancer. Your provider may recommend a follow-up scan in 6 months or a year to check that the nodule’s size or appearance are not changing.

  • If the nodule has changed or is very suspicious for cancer: Your provider may recommend additional testing, such as a PET scan or a biopsy.

No lung nodules are found: You can wait a year before your next screening.

Other health problems are found: The scan may find other lung and heart problems, such as emphysema or hardening of the arteries. These are common in people who have smoked for a long time. Talk to your provider to see if you need additional tests.

American Cancer Society 

A scan is recommended every year for most people. After you have your first screening, talk to your health care provider about what you need to do next.


No matter what you decide about screening, quitting smoking is the most effective way to lower your risk of lung cancer. The benefits begin just minutes after you stop smoking.

Ready to quit, or thinking about quitting?

The Maine QuitLink answers your questions and offers friendly, free, and confidential support. Call 1-800-207-1230.


Qualified patients who meet the right criteria are eligible for annual LDCT screening covered by Medicare and MaineCare, as well as many health insurance companies.

The US Preventive Services Task Force recommends lung cancer screening for eligible individuals ages 50 – 80.

Medicare Part B (Medical Insurance):

Medicare Part B covers lung cancer screenings with Low Dose Computed Tomography (LDCT) once per year if you meet all of these conditions:

  • You’re age 55-77.
  • You don’t have signs or symptoms of lung cancer.
  • You’re either a current smoker or have quit smoking within the last 15 years.
  • You have a tobacco smoking history of at least 30 “pack years” (an average of one pack (20 cigarettes) per day for 30 years).
  • You get a written order from your doctor.

Affordable Care Act:

Under the Affordable Care Act, the health care reform law passed in 2010, insurance plans must cover lung cancer screening for adults age 55-80 who are at high risk for lung cancer. Talk to your insurance company to find out more.


Eligible people with full MaineCare are covered starting at age 55. People with partial MaineCare should check with their providers or MaineCare.

Private insurers:

Many private insurers cover up to age 80. Check with your insurance providers to confirm coverage.

Before the initial screening can occur, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) requires that eligible patients participate in a lung cancer screening counseling and shared decision-making visit by a physician or qualified non-physician practitioner. In shared decision making, patients and providers collaborate to make health decisions based on the best available evidence and the patient’s values and preferences.

The Counseling Must Include:

  • The potential benefits of screening (reduced mortality)
  • The potential harms of screening (false positives, follow-up diagnostic procedures, over-diagnosis, radiation exposure)
  • The importance of getting screened for lung cancer on an annual basis
  • For current smokers, the importance of quitting and, if appropriate, providing information about ways to quit

Take the American Lung Association’s Lung Cancer Screening Eligibility Quiz if you are unsure about whether or not you are eligible.

Right now, insurance will only pay for lung cancer screening if you meet these eligibility criteria.

Decision Aids for Lung Cancer Screening

Here are some additional tools to help you decide whether lung cancer screening is right for you.

Is Lung Cancer Screening Right For Me? A decision aid for people considering lung cancer screening with low-dose computed tomography

Decision Aid: For Lung Cancer Screening with Computerized Tomography (CT)

Patient Tool for Lung Cancer Screening: Benefits vs. Harms