How Lung Cancer is Diagnosed

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A doctor will evaluate several factors when diagnosing lung cancer. The person's smoking history, exposure to occupational hazards and family history are all taken into account.

A chest x-ray will be taken, and if cancer is suspected, sputum cytology (looking at the cells under a microscope from a deep-cough sample) will also be done.

  • Chest X-Ray Chest x-rays are radiographic studies used for diagnosing unusual masses within the lungs.
    • CAT Scan / CT Scan CAT scans are used to detect abnormalities in structures of the body. Computed tomography is a noninvasive procedure, meaning no entry of the body is necessary.
    To confirm the presence of cancer, the doctor will want a biopsy of lung tissue to review under a microscope. There are several ways to do the biopsy.
    • Bronchoscopy A bronchoscope (a thin, lighted tube) is inserted into the lungs through the nose or mouth and down the windpipe. A small sample of tissue can be obtained using this tool.
    • Needle Aspiration A needle is inserted into the the tumor through the chest to obtain the sample.
    • Thoracentesis This method uses a needle to remove a sample of the fluid which surrounds the lungs to check for cancer cells.
    • Thoracotomy This is a major surgical procedure in which the chest is opened to look for the presence of cancer.
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      Information for this article obtained from NCI, which is a division of The National Institutes of Health (NIH).

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