Lung Screening

Massachusetts General Hospital Imaging screens high-risk patients for lung cancer under the care of dedicated thoracic radiologists using low-dose CT scans (LDCT).
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About This Service

Massachusetts General Hospital Imaging uses low-dose CT scans (LDCT) to screen for lung cancer among patients who meet the recommended criteria. LDCT is available on our main campus in Boston and at our imaging locations in Waltham, Chelsea and Danvers.

All images are read by dedicated thoracic radiologists who specialize in the detection and management of lung nodules. They are part of a multidisciplinary team that offers subspecialty expertise in the detection and treatment of lung cancer.

Active smokers should enter a smoking cessation program. Screening is not an alternative to smoking cessation.

LDCT Overview

  • Requires a physician's referral
  • Covered by Medicare and private insurance plans for qualifying patients
    • Does not involve the use of contrast
  • Carries a low radiation dose
  • Has a high rate of false positive findings, which may lead to follow-up exams, additional cost, additional radiation exposure and patient anxiety
    • It is important that a health care provider manage follow up care for patients with a positive finding

Read our FAQs to learn more about the risks associated with lung cancer screening, including incidental findings and radiation risk.

CT lung cancer screening

Small nodule discovered by CT in the left lung (A)
enlarged on follow-up CT scan (B) and was found to
be an adenocarcinoma at surgery.

LDCT in Depth

On July 6, 2011, the New England Journal of Medicine published resultsfrom the National Lung Cancer Screening Trial (NLST)conducted by the National Cancer Institute (NCI)and the American College of Radiology Imaging Network (ACRIN). This study, the only randomized control trial of lung cancer screening that has been completed, included more than 50,000 patients.

The results demonstrated a mortality benefit of 20% when LDCT is used to screen high-risk patients for early lung cancer. In other words, 20% fewer deaths were reported during the study among a group of patients who received LDCT scanning versus a control group of patients who did not.

In December 2013, the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) finalized recommendations to screen high-risk patients for lung cancer with LDCT based on findings from the NLST. It is the only screening test for lung cancer recommended by the USPSTF. Read more


What to Expect

What should I expect BEFORE a LDCT?

There is no special preparation for a LDCT. You do not need to fast or get an injection.

  • Medications: Keep to your regular medication schedule prescribed to you by your doctor, and let us know what medications you have taken prior to your test.
  • Food and drink: There are no restrictions on food and drink.
  • When to arrive: Please arrive 15 minutes before your scheduled appointment time.
  • What to wear: Dress in comfortable clothing. You may be asked to change into a hospital gown if your clothing contains metal (e.g., a bra or zipper). You may also be asked to remove jewelry or anything that might interfere with your scan. Although the scan is conducted in a secure environment, it is best to leave valuable items at home.

If you have had a previous chest CT at another hospital, please notify your doctor and authorize Mass General to get a copy before you have a LDCT.

What will I experience DURING a LDCT?

  • Scanning: A CT technologist will bring you into the CT scan room where you will lie on your back on a table with your hands over your head. The technologist will position your body within the large doughnut-shaped scanner ring which holds the X-ray tube and electronic detector. The technologist will leave the room but is in full view and communication with you during the exam.
    • The scanner does not touch you, and you do not feel the X-rays. It makes some noise, and the table may move slightly to adjust for a better view. It is important to lie still and hold your breath (no more than a few seconds) when asked.
    • During the scan, a thin beam of X-ray is focused on a specific part of your body. The X-ray tube moves very rapidly around this area, capturing multiple images from different angles to create a cross-sectional picture. The data goes to the electronic detector and to a computer, which constructs an image for the radiologist to read.
  • Length of scan: Most examinations last approximately 15 minutes, but the actual scanning takes about two minutes. You may leave once it is completed; you do not wait for the results.

What should I expect AFTER a LDCT?

You have no restrictions after having a scan and can go about your normal activities.

A thoracic radiologist will read your scan, using any of your prior scans for comparison, and send your doctor a report. Your doctor will notify you of the results and organize follow-up if needed.


Patients who meet the following criteria are eligible for an annual low-dose CT scan (LDCT) to screen for lung cancer:

  • Age 55 to 77 years old
  • A 30 "pack year" or greater history of smoking (a "pack year" is calculated from multiplying the number of packs of cigarettes smoked per day by the number of years a person has smoked)
  • Either currently smoke or have quit in the past 15 years
  • No symptoms of lung cancer such as cough, shortness of breath or chest pain
  • Able and willing to tolerate treatment if lung cancer is discovered

These criteria are recommended by the US Preventive Services Task Force based on the findings of the National Lung Screening Trial (NLST), a large scientific study in which LDCT resulted in 20% fewer lung cancer deaths compared to screening with a standard chest X-ray.

This exam is available on our main campus in Boston and at our locations in Waltham, Chelsea and Danvers.

Low-dose CT (LDCT) to screen for lung cancer is covered by Medicare and private insurance plans for qualifying patients.

Conditions & Diseases

  • Lung Cancer

    Lung cancer is cancer that usually starts in the lining of the bronchi (the main airways of the lungs), but can also begin in other areas of the respiratory system, including the trachea, bronchioles, or alveoli.


  • Mass General Imaging introduces CT lung-cancer screening - 8/11/2011, Clinical

    Research shows a clear benefit for CT lung-cancer screening among individuals who meet strict criteria. Patients and referrers should understand both the benefit and the potential for false positive results.



Our program staff can provide more information about lung cancer screening at Mass General. Please note that we do not offer medical advice over the phone.

Lung cancer screening is available on our main campus in Boston and at our locations in Waltham, Chelsea and Danvers:

Mass General Imaging – Boston

Mass General West – Waltham
Mass General Imaging – Chelsea
Mass General / North Shore Center for Outpatient Care


Request an Appointment

Call to request an appointment 617-724-9729

Are you eligible?

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