Lung Cancer - Non-Small Cell: Screening

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 12/2022

ON THIS PAGE: You will find out more about screening for this type of non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). You will also learn the risks and benefits of screening. Use the menu to see other pages.

Screening is used to look for cancer before you have any symptoms or signs. Scientists have developed, and continue to develop, tests that can be used to screen a person for specific types of cancer. The overall goals of cancer screening are to lower the number of people who die from the disease or eliminate deaths from cancer altogether.

Learn more about the basics of cancer screening.

Screening information for lung cancer

Different organizations have looked at the scientific evidence, risks, and benefits of lung cancer screening. These groups have developed screening recommendations for people who are at risk of developing lung cancer. Recommendations can vary from organization to organization. Talk to your health care team about your smoking history and your screening options.

Screening for lung cancer is done with a test called a low-dose helical or spiral computed tomography (CT or CAT) scan. A CT scan takes pictures of the inside of the body with an x-ray machine. A computer then combines these pictures into a detailed, 3-dimensional image that shows any abnormalities or tumors.

CT scanning is not recommended for every person who smokes. The current recommendations are discussed below. It is also important to receive screening at an approved and experienced center. This type of lung cancer screening is approved by Medicare.

ASCO's recommendations are based on a person's age and how much they smoke. This number, called a "pack year," is equivalent to smoking 20 cigarettes or 1 pack each day for a year. ASCO recommends the following lung cancer screening schedules for people who currently smoke or who have quit smoking:

  • Yearly screening with a low-dose CT scan is recommended for people age 55 to 74 who have smoked for 30 pack years or more. It is also recommended for those age 55 to 74 who have quit within the past 15 years.

  • CT screening is not routinely recommended for people who have smoked for less than 30 pack years, are younger than 55 or older than 74, have quit smoking more than 15 years ago, or have a serious condition that could affect cancer treatment or shorten a person's life.

The United States Preventive Services Task Force recommends that people age 50 to 80 who have smoked for 20 pack years or more or who have quit within the past 15 years receive screening for lung cancer with low-dose CT scans each year. Screening can stop after a person has not smoked for 15 years or develops a health problem that would shorten their life or prevent them from being able to have surgery for lung cancer.

Always discuss whether you are eligible for regular screening with your primary care doctor.

Listen to a Cancer.Net Podcast on Understanding lung cancer screening, and find more information about lung cancer screening on the website of the National Cancer Institute.

The next section in this guide is Symptoms and SignsIt explains what changes or medical problems NSCLC can cause. Use the menu to choose a different section to read in this guide.