Lung cancer screening: nodule identification and characterization

Ioannis Vlahos, Konstantinos Stefanidis, Sarah Sheard, Arjun Nair, Charles Sayer, Joanne Moser


The accurate identification and characterization of small pulmonary nodules at low-dose CT is an essential requirement for the implementation of effective lung cancer screening. Individual reader detection performance is influenced by nodule characteristics and technical CT parameters but can be improved by training, the application of CT techniques, and by computer-aided techniques. However, the evaluation of nodule detection in lung cancer screening trials differs from the assessment of individual readers as it incorporates multiple readers, their inter-observer variability, reporting thresholds, and reflects the program accuracy in identifying lung cancer. Understanding detection and interpretation errors in screening trials aids in the implementation of lung cancer screening in clinical practice. Indeed, as CT screening moves to ever lower radiation doses, radiologists must be cognisant of new technical challenges in nodule assessment. Screen detected lung cancers demonstrate distinct morphological features from incidentally or symptomatically detected lung cancers. Hence characterization of screen detected nodules requires an awareness of emerging concepts in early lung cancer appearances and their impact on radiological assessment and malignancy prediction models. Ultimately many nodules remain indeterminate, but further imaging evaluation can be appropriate with judicious utilization of contrast enhanced CT or MRI techniques or functional evaluation by PET-CT.