Lung Cancer Diagnosis

There are several different types of tests for lung cancer. After reviewing your medical history and doing a basic medical exam, your doctor will most likely perform one of the following:

Chest X-ray

A normal x-ray used to check for abnormal areas in the lungs.

CT Scan

This is a series of x-rays put together by a computer to create more detailed images of the lungs. A special spiral or helical CT scan may be able to identify smaller tumors than an x-ray could.

Sputum Cytology

Your doctor will take a sample of mucus from the lungs and examine it for abnormalities.

Biopsy

There are three main types of biopsies that can be performed on the lungs. Bronchoscopy uses an instrument with a lighted tip to examine the lungs and remove tissue samples. Needle aspiration is a procedure in which a needle is inserted through the chest to remove a sample of tissue from a tumor. And thoracentesis collects fluid samples from around the lungs by inserting a needle though the chest.

Pulmonary Function Tests

A series of tests that sees how well your lungs are functioning and provides the doctor with more information about which types of treatment are appropriate for you.

Staging

If you are diagnosed with lung cancer, staging will help determine whether the cancer has spread to other parts of your body. Tests to determine the stage of your cancer include CT scans, MRI, bone or liver scans and mediastinoscopy—a test that checks lymph nodes in the chest for cancer cells.

Lung cancer staging consists of three categories: tumor, lymph nodes and metastases.

Lung Cancer Tumor Stages

Stage Tis

The tumor is found in the sputum, but cannot be seen in the airways or lungs.

Stage TI

The tumor is 3 centimeters or smaller, has not spread to the skin or pleura surrounding the lungs, and is not affecting the main branches of the airways.

Stage T2

The cancer has one or more of the following characteristics:

  • It is larger than 3 centimeters.
  • It involves a main bronchus, but is not closer than 2 centimeters to where the windpipe branches.
  • It has spread to the pleura surrounding the lungs.
  • It may block part of the airway, but has not caused the entire lung to collapse.

Stage T3

The cancer has one or more of the following characteristics:

  • It has spread to the chest wall, diaphragm, and pleura surrounding the lungs or membranes surrounding the heart.
  • It involves a main bronchus and is closer than 2 centimeters to where the windpipe branches.
  • It has grown into the airways and caused a lung to collapse or pneumonia in the entire lung.

Stage T4

The cancer has one or more of the following characteristics:

  • It has spread to other areas of the chest, such as the spinal bones, hear, esophagus, or large blood vessels.
  • There are two or more separate tumors in the same lobe.
  • There are cancer cells in the space surrounding the lungs.

Lung Cancer Lymph Node Stages

Stage N0

The cancer has not spread to the lymph nodes.

Stage N1

The cancer has spread to the lymph nodes in the lung or the area where the bronchus meets the lung, and has affected the lymph nodes on the same side of the body as the cancer.

Stage N2

The cancer has spread to the lymph nodes where the windpipe branches, or to the lymph nodes in the space between the chest and heart. The affected lymph nodes are on the same side of the body as the cancer.

Stage N3

The cancer has spread to the lymph nodes near the collarbone on either side or to the opposite side of the body from the affected lung.

Lung Cancer Metastatic Stages

Stage M0

The cancer has not spread.

Stage M1

The cancer has spread to other parts of the body beyond the chest, other lobes of the lung, or lymph nodes beyond those in the N stages.

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