Lung Cancer Diagnosis

Making a diagnosis of lung cancer typically starts with the doctor taking a thorough medical history and conducting a physical exam. Based on the history and physical exam, the doctor may also order a chest x-ray and other tests. Examples of tests and procedures used include sputum cytology, bronchoscopy, and thoracotomy.

Lung Cancer Diagnosis: An Overview

In order to make a lung cancer diagnosis, the doctor will ask a number of questions, including questions about:
  • Current symptoms
  • Smoking history
  • Exposure to environmental and occupational substances
  • Family medical history
  • Current medications.


He or she will also perform a physical exam looking for signs or symptoms of lung cancer and may order specific tests or procedures.


Tests and Procedures for Diagnosing Lung Cancer

There are a number of tests or procedures that healthcare providers use to help diagnose lung cancer or other problems in the lungs. Some of these include:
  • Chest x-ray
  • Sputum cytology
  • Lung biopsy.


Chest X-Ray

A chest x-ray is a picture of your lungs. It can show a number of diseases and conditions, including growths such as lung cancer.
Sputum Cytology
If lung cancer is suspected, sputum cytology (the microscopic examination of cells obtained from a deep-cough sample of mucus in the lungs) is a simple test that may be useful in detecting lung cancer.
Lung Biopsy
To make a lung cancer diagnosis, the doctor must examine tissue from the lung. A biopsy -- the removal of a small sample of tissue for examination under a microscope by a pathologist -- can show whether a person has cancer.
A number of procedures may be used to obtain this tissue, including a:
  • Bronchoscopy. In a bronchoscopy, the doctor puts a bronchoscope (a thin, lighted tube) into the mouth or nose and down through the windpipe to look into the breathing passages. Through this tube, the doctor can collect cells or small samples of tissue.


  • Needle aspiration. In a needle aspiration procedure, a needle is inserted through the chest into the tumor to remove a sample of tissue.


  • Thoracentesis. In a thoracentesis, the doctor removes a sample of the fluid that surrounds the lungs using a needle. This sample is checked for cancer cells.


  • Thoracotomy. Thoracotomy is a surgery to open the chest. This procedure is a major operation performed in a hospital and is sometimes needed to diagnose lung cancer.
5 Questions to Ask Your Doctor About ED

Lung Cancer Information

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