Cancer Care



Lung Cancer Screening

Lung cancer screening looks for signs of disease before there are any symptoms in patients who are at high risk.

What is lung cancer screening?

Using advanced medical imaging equipment known as a CT scanner, we take very detailed “pictures” or scans of your lungs once a year. A doctor will then examine these pictures to look for changes in your lungs that could be signs of lung cancer. Lung cancer can look like a spot on your lung.

Who should consider screening for lung cancer?

Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC) offers lung cancer screening to adults who meet all three of the following criteria:

  • 55-80 years old
  • Current or former (who quit within the past 15 years) smokers with at least a 30 pack-years history of smoking
  • No major health problems or conditions that would prevent you from receiving cancer care treatment such as surgery

What if I do not meet the requirements for lung cancer screening?

If you don’t meet these criteria and you believe you are at risk for lung cancer, tell your health care provider about your concerns. There are sometimes exceptions for specific situations. Other times, screening can be offered as part of a clinical trial.

What is involved in lung cancer screening?

A lung cancer screening test is fast and painless and requires no fasting, needles or injections or any special preparations or precautions. You will probably be in the CT room for about five minutes.

The benefits of lung cancer screening

When it comes to cancer, the sooner you spot it, the easier it is to treat. If lung cancer is diagnosed early:

  • Treatment may be more successful
    Research studies show that spotting lung cancer at the earliest stages improves your chances of survival. The National Lung Screening Trial (NLST) study found four fewer deaths from cancer when 1,000 study participants were screened with three annual tests.
  • You may have more treatment options
    Patients with early stage lung cancer often have surgery, radiation and chemotherapy as options. When lung cancer is more advanced, there are fewer treatment options available. Late stage lung cancer is often inoperable.

Harms of lung cancer screening

Leading medical societies say lung cancer screening is safe and effective for those facing the highest risks of lung cancer. But the test has drawbacks. It is important to consider both the benefits and harms before deciding to have a lung cancer screening.

  • False alarm
    A false alarm is something that looks like lung cancer, but is actually not cancer. Based on scientific reports, we expect one in five people undergoing their first screening to have a false alarm. Most of these people will undergo further CT scans to prove they do not cancer. Many health care providers will watch the area of concern with regular annual screenings to look for changes. For a few false alarms, additional imaging is not enough to rule out cancer. In that case, your health care provider may recommend an invasive procedure such as a biopsy.
  • Over diagnosis
    When we screen, we sometimes find slow growing cancers that would not have been be discovered otherwise and would not lead to illness or death. When you are treated for cancer that would not have caused harm, it is called over diagnosis. For every 1,000 people screened, we expect that 4 will be over diagnosed.

How to arrange for a lung cancer screening

Talk to your health care provider to decide if screening is right for you. To learn more about lung cancer screening call:

  • Lebanon: (866) 966-1601
  • Manchester: (603) 695-2850

Is lung cancer screening covered by insurance?

Lung cancer screening for those who meet the criteria are covered by some insurance programs. Since lung cancer screening is still a new approach not all insurance carriers have established coverage policies. Check with your specific health plan to find out if you have coverage.

If you are worried about bills, don’t have insurance, or want to apply for financial assistance, contact Patient Financial Services: (800) 368-4783 or

To learn more about lung cancer screening