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Lung Cancer Tests and Diagnosis

There is still a debate whether people who are considered healthy (show no symptoms of lung cancer) should be screened for this disease. Several lung cancer clinical studies have shown that routine screening detects cancer earlier, when it can still be treated successfully. On the other hand, some experts think this invasive testing can expose people to unnecessary risk.

As one can see, the topic of lung cancer screening has become somewhat controversial. However, you should not avoid discussing your concerns with your doctor if you are worried about lung cancer. By working together, you’ll learn which diagnostic tests are worth considering and develop a strategy that could significantly reduce your risk.

(If you have been diagnosed with lung cancer, then you may qualify for an outpatient lung cancer clinical trial in Birmingham, AL.)

Diagnostic Tests Used for Lung Cancer

If you are worried about lung cancer, doctors have a number of tests which can identify cancerous cells and rule out other complicating medical conditions. The following tests can be used to diagnose lung cancer:

  • Medical Imaging: X-rays and CT scans are going to be the first screening tests used. An X-ray image will show doctors if the patient has a nodule or unusual mass in the lungs. A CT scan can show small lesions in the lungs which could have been missed by an X-ray.
  • Sputum Cytology: Experiencing a chronic cough and excessive sputum? This test will look at a sputum sample under the microscope for the presence of lung cancer cells.
  • Tissue Biopsy: Doctors may also take a tissue sample (biopsy) to look for abnormal or cancerous cells. A biopsy can be taken in more than one way, including mediastinoscopy, bronchoscopy, and needle biopsy. If doctors suspect the cancer may have spread, then they may biopsy the lymph nodes as well.

Tests for Lung Cancer Staging

Once lung cancer has been diagnosed, doctors will have to determine the stage of the patient’s disease. Based on the stage, doctors can effectively choose what lung cancer treatments can be used.

Doctors will make use of imaging procedures that can identify tell-tale signs of cancer metastasis. This would include magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), CT scans, positron emission tomography (PET) and bone scans. One or more of these tests may not be appropriate given a person’s underlying condition, so you’ll want to discuss your options with your doctor.

Lung Cancer Stages

  • Stage 1: Lung cancer is contained within the lung and hasn’t metastasized to the lymph nodes. The tumor is usually smaller than 2 inches (5 centimeters) in diameter.
  • Stage II: Tumor now exceeds 2 inches in size, or it is smaller but has metastasized to the chest wall, the diaphragm, or lining around the lungs (pleura). The lung cancer may have also spread to the lymph nodes.
  • Stage III: The tumor is now rather large, and the disease has begun to invade nearby organs. In some cases, the tumor is small, but the disease has spread to lymph nodes that are further away.
  • Stage IV: Lung cancer has invaded both lungs or metastasized to distant parts of the body. Treatment options are extremely limited at this stage.

Although lung cancer screening remains controversial, it is not worth avoiding if you know you may be at risk. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer related death for both men and women in the United States. If you choose to wait till the symptoms have already appeared, it may already be too late.