The doctor will ask about your symptoms, and medical and family history. A complete physical exam will be done. The lungs, throat, and chest areas will be thoroughly examined. Your doctor may suspect lung cancer based on your symptoms, but will look for other possible causes.
If you have symptoms, your doctor may conduct certain tests to identify abnormalities. These may include:
Diagnosis of lung cancer and type is confirmed with a biopsy. A biopsy is a tissue sample that is removed from the bronchi or lungs. After removal, the sample is examined under a microscope with special stains. This is the only way to confirm a diagnosis of lung cancer.
Biopsy needles may be guided by imaging, such as an MRI scan or ultrasound, to improve accuracy. Done when the tumor is not reachable by bronchoscopy. Types of needle biopsy include:
Placement of Thoracentesis Needle
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Some tumors may need to be accessed with a surgical biopsy. This can be done with:
If lung cancer is confirmed, results from completed tests and new tests will help determine the stage of cancer. Staging is used to determine characteristics of the tumor that will help develop the prognosis and treatment plan. Factors that play a role in staging include how far the original tumor has spread, whether lymph nodes are involved, if cancer has spread to other tissue, and microscopic cellular details.
Tests that may help determine lung cancer stage:
Staging depends on the type of lung cancer that is found. The staging are different for each tumor:
Non-small cell lung cancer is staged from occult to stage IV:
Small cell lung cancer has two stages :
How is lung cancer diagnosed? American Lung Association website. Available at:http://www.lung.org/lung-health-and-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/lung-cancer/learn-about-lung-cancer/how-is-lung-cancer-diagnosed. Updated November 3, 2016. Accessed August 30, 2017.
Non-small cell lung cancer. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114774/Non-small-cell-lung-cancer. Updated June 23, 2017. Accessed August 30, 2017.
Non-small cell lung cancer. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/types/lung/patient/non-small-cell-lung-treatment-pdq. Updated April 13, 2017. Accessed August 30, 2017.
Small cell lung cancer. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115654/Small-cell-lung-cancer. Updated June 23, 2017. Accessed August 30, 2017.
Small cell lung cancer. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/types/lung/hp/small-cell-lung-treatment-pdq. Updated January 20, 2017. Accessed August 30, 2017.
Tests for non-small cell lung cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/non-small-cell-lung-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/how-diagnosed.html. Updated June 23, 2017. Accessed August 30, 2017.
Tests for small cell lung cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/small-cell-lung-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/how-diagnosed.html. Updated May 16, 2016. Accessed August 30, 2017.
Last reviewed August 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael Woods, MD, FAAP
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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