Lung cancer - Diagnosis

Doctor may consider these factors when choosing a diagnostic test:

  • Size, location, and type of cancer suspected
  • Age and medical condition
  • Signs and symptoms
  • Previous test results

Often chest x-rays will be performed and sputum may be sent for testing for cancer cells. If the chest x-ray shows any abnormality, a special scan of the lungs, called a CT (computed tomography) scan may be performed to evaluate more accurately for presence of lung cancer. If this scan shows a suspicious mass, a biopsy may be recommended, where a small specimen from this mass is then obtained for examination under a microscope, to look for the presence of cancer cells. Biopsy can often be performed in a few different ways, such as

  • Needle aspiration/core biopsy, passing a needle through the skin into the lung mass under x-ray guidance
  • Bronchoscopy examination, where a small tube is introduced through the mouth and into the lung.

A biopsy sample may also be taken from the lymph nodes or other areas that the cancer has affected. Lung function tests may be performed to determine how well the lungs are working and determine if it is safe to proceed with treatments such as surgery or radiotherapy to the lungs.

Once cancer is diagnosed, computerised tomography (CT) scans of the chest and liver may be performed to determine if the cancer has spread to other organs.

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