How is Lung Cancer Diagnosed?

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Tests that may be used to look for and learn more about the lung cancer include:

Chest x-rays. A chest x-ray allows your care team to look at your lungs and airways. Chest x-rays can help healthcare providers look for lumps, nodules, spots, or other abnormal areas in the lungs. The x-ray can show these abnormalities but it does not diagnose cancer. If it might be cancer, your physician may order additional tests.

CT scans. A CT or CAT scan uses x-rays to create cross-sectional pictures of the body. These scans help your care team look for lung abnormalities in more detail. 

Positive-emission tomography (PET scan). This test is done by Beebe Imaging. A radioactive substance is injected and then you have the scan. The care team can see abnormal growths in the body, which show up as “hot spots” on the scan. PET scans can also be used to tell if a tumor is growing or shrinking.

Sputum test. If you’re coughing up mucus, your healthcare provider will probably send a sample to the lab for analysis. The lab can check the mucus for cancerous cells. While this might be an indicator, it is possible to have lung cancer and not have any cancerous cells show up on the test. 

Bronchoscopy. A bronchoscope is a thin, flexible tube that contains a tiny video camera. The tube is passed through your nose or mouth, down through your windpipe (trachea) and into your lungs. A bronchoscopy allows your care team to see what is happening inside your airways and lungs. Providers can also take small tissue samples (biopsies) and send them to a lab to see if they’re cancerous.

Endobronchial ultrasound. In some cases your care team will do this test at the same time as bronchoscopy. In addition to viewing your airways and lungs with the video camera, your physician may also use an ultrasound probe to look inside and outside the lungs. This test can also show if lung cancer has spread. Tissue samples gathered can be used to diagnose cancer.

Fine needle aspiration. If a scan reveals a suspicious mass or possible tumor in the lungs, a radiologist may use a thin needle to take a sample of the abnormal area and sent to a lab to see if there are cancer cells. 

Core needle biopsy. If a larger sample is needed, your care team may recommend a core needle biopsy can also be used to determine whether or not a mass is cancerous. 

Surgical lung biopsy. Depending on the location of the suspected tumor (or tumors), surgery may be the best way to get a good tissue sample to determine if it’s cancerous.

Thoracentesis. In this test, a hollow needle is inserted into the chest to remove fluid around the lungs. The fluid can be tested for cancer.

Biomarker testing. Tissue removed during a biopsy can be tested for several biomarkers for cancer that can give the doctor specific information about the tumor. Biomarker testing gives healthcare teams more information about your type of lung cancer. All lung cancers are not the same. Biomarker testing can help your care team decide what types of treatment will be most effective for you.
 

LEARN MORE: Beebe's Center for Robotic Surgery offers robotically assisted lung surgery.