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Lung Cancer Screenings and Diagnosis

William Krimsky, MD with a patient.

Lung Screens

Many screening scans detect benign (non-cancerous) nodules that require further evaluation. This may include more frequent low-dose CT scans or different testing. In December 2013, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force approved screening lung scans, as a result, many lives have been saved. The purpose of lung cancer screening is to detect lung cancer before the development of symptoms. The screening covers areas adjacent to the lungs, so it may also detect other conditions like gallstones, thyroid nodules, liver and pancreatic cancers, and heart calcifications. Radiation dose associated with a screening scan is very minimal with a low dosage and unlikely to result in a cancer.

MedStar Health Cancer Network offers lung scans for individuals at high risk for developing lung cancer. The earlier lung cancer is detected, the better it can be defeated.

If you meet these criteria, you could be a candidate for a lung scan:

  • 55 to 77 years of age and
  • no signs or symptoms of lung cancer, and
  • have a tobacco smoking history of at least 30 pack-years (pack-years is the # of cigarettes smoked per day multiplied by the # of years smoked, divided by 20), and
  • currently smoke or have quit smoking within the past 15 years

Most insurances cover the cost of this screening, but a written doctor’s order is needed. Lung cancer screening is completely painless and takes less than 10 minutes.

If you are eligible for lung cancer screening, ask your doctor to order a lung screening CT scan or contact the MedStar Health Lung Screening Program at 877-715-HOPE. Our goal is to ensure that you receive appropriate care and not undergo needless testing and procedures.

Please note: There can be out-of-pocket costs associated with the screening program. While most insurance companies cover the costs of CT screening, if the scans detect cancer or other conditions, any resulting diagnostic studies or treatment will most likely be covered.

Lung Cancer Diagnosis

One of the most aggressive forms of cancer, lung cancer may continue to grow and spread into other areas of the body, causing other life-threatening problems. It is important to detect and treat lung cancer as early as possible. When a patient presents with symptoms that might suggest lung cancer or any other form of lung disease, interventional pulmonolgists will use several methods to make an accurate diagnosis.

To confirm the presence of lung cancer, MedStar Health doctors perform a biopsy, wherein a small sample of tissue is removed from the lung. A pathologist will then examine tissue under a microscope to determine if cancer is present. A number of procedures may be used to obtain this tissue

  • Navigational bronchoscopy is an advanced imaging system that allows minimally invasive biopsies of lesions anywhere in the lungs. Replacing the need for high-risk invasive procedures, such as chest needle biopsies and open surgeries, navigational bronchoscopy sets the stage for earlier lung cancer diagnosis. This, in turn, boosts survival rates and eliminates the stressful wait-and-see approach after finding a questionable area on a thoracic CAT scan.

    In the procedure, your surgeon uses a specialized catheter to capture a 3-D, electromagnetic map of your lungs. Once your surgeon reaches the lesion, he or she will remove the catheter and insert an ultrasound device to visualize the lesion and its position in the airway. Getting as close as possible to the lesion, your surgeon will use tiny surgical instruments to remove enough tissue for a quick biopsy.

    The navigational bronchoscopy procedure is painless with general anesthesia, often taking about an hour, with patients remaining comfortable. We offer endoscopic and endobronchial ultrasound at the same time as your navigational bronchoscopy test, so there is no need to make two trips or have two surgical procedures that require anesthesia.

  • Endoscopic and endobronchial ultrasound are advanced diagnostic technologies that provide real-time imaging of abnormalities inside the chest. These procedures are so effective, they can sometimes eliminate additional phases of testing. The real-time technology used in endoscopic and endobronchial ultrasounds has a long learning curve, and few physicians are prepared to perform them. However, MedStar Health specialists are well-trained to perform these procedures accurately.
  • Fine-needle aspirations require your physician to insert a needle into the tumor.  Tissue and cells are then removed from the abnormality inside your lungs or your lymph nodes. In some cases, your doctor will recommend using an ultrasound or CT scan as a guide for the needle.
  • During a mediastinoscopy, your thoracic surgeon makes an incision at the top of the breastbone, and inserts a thin, lighted tube to see inside the chest.
  • To check sputum cytology, a patient's sputum (phlegm) is stained and examined under the microscope to look for malignant tumor cells.
  • In a thoracentesis, your doctor checks the fluid in your chest, also called the pleural fluid. The area is numbed and a needle is inserted into the chest to draw out some of the fluid.
  • A thoracoscopy lets your doctor view your lungs and chest cavity internally. Your doctor will make several small incisions in your chest and back and insert a lighted narrow tube to check the areas for any abnormalities.
  • Thoracotomy is a procedure wherein a thoracic surgeon opens the chest with a long incision and remove any abnormalities or lymph nodes for further examination in the lab.

Learn about lung cancer treatment at MedStar Health Baltimore Cancer Network. 

Location Information

For a physician referral, please call 1-877-715-HOPE.

MedStar Bel Air Medical Campus
12 MedStar Boulevard
Baltimore, MD 21239

MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center
The Angelos Center for Lung Diseases
9103 Franklin Square Drive
Baltimore, MD 21237

MedStar Good Samaritan Hospital
5601 Loch Raven Boulevard
Baltimore, MD 21239

MedStar Harbor Hospital
3001 South Hanover St.
Baltimore, MD 21225 

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