Intercollegiate Guidance for Pre-Operative Chest CT imaging for elective cancer surgery during the COVID-19 Pandemic Update

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13 Apr 2020

A revision of the latest Intercollegiate Guidance has been released for Pre-Operative Chest CT imaging for elective cancer surgery during the COVID-19 Pandemic.


  • Part of the NHSE response to the COVID-19 pandemic involves the maintenance of some urgent services including cancer surgery.
  • The risk of respiratory complications may be exacerbated by operating on unknowingly undetected COVID positive patients who undergo major surgery and mechanical ventilation. Neither naso- / oropharyngeal swabs (PCR) or CT-scanning are particularly sensitive for the SARS-Cov-2 virus and have false negative rates 25 to 30%
  • For this reason, it is important we have consensus agreement for the appropriate screening of pre-operative patients. All patients should have been asymptomatic for at least 7 days prior to surgery, have been socially isolating for 14 days with shielding and have Covid-19 negative naso / oropharyngeal swabs within 48 hours of the procedure according to local infection prevention control guidance.
  • This guidance relates to the use of chest CT prior to elective cancer surgery only (Priority 2 and 3 - NHSE Guidance). This guidance is likely to evolve over time as further data becomes available.
  • Patients who present as abdominal emergencies who have an abdominal CT in their diagnostic investigations should also have a Chest CT scan (ref ––Updated General Surgery Guidance on Covid-19 – Intercollegiate / ASGBI 5th April 2020).


Practical recommendations:

  • Radiographers should wear basic personal protective equipment (PPE) for patient protection.
  • Patients should be directed straight to the scanner, thus avoiding waiting areas.
  • Ideally the hospital’s ‘clean’ scanner should be used and these patients should be scanned first on the list to decrease risks to the patient.
  • The CT should be wiped down prior to use with disinfectant wipes according to local policy.


Imaging recommendations:

  • Due to its low sensitivity and the low pre-test probability of disease, computed tomography should only be deployed in very specific circumstances
  • Preoperative Chest CT scanning should be undertaken in patients whose preoperative assessment indicates that they will need level II/III Critical Care in their postoperative recovery
  • This particularly applies to thoracic surgery and complex upper abdominal surgery (oesophageal, gastric, hepatic and pancreatic)
  • Screening for other complex, high risk surgeries should be determined by careful discussion with the duty radiologist by the individual treating teams, based on the likelihood of respiratory compromise and / or critical care support postoperatively. However, it should only be considered if positive CT findings would change the patient’s immediate surgical management.


  • A negative CT cannot be interpreted as a signal to omit the use of PPE by staff.


Read the full statement here.


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