Lung Cancer

Lung Cancer Diagnosis

Doctor and patient looking at lung cancer diagnosis

Early lung cancer diagnosis allows patients to have a much higher chance of survival in comparison to treatment after the cancer has spread. People with an increased risk of lung cancer may consider annual lung cancer screening using low-dose CT scans. Lung cancer screening is generally offered to older adults between 55 to 80 years old who smoked more than 30 pack years or who have quit in the past 15 years. However, this method is not perfect, and one needs to be prepared for false positive results (CT scans which indicate abnormalities but are eventually proven to be non-existent (upon further testing).

Tests for Diagnosis of Lung Cancer

Diagnosing lung cancer starts with a check-up with a lung specialist and a physical exam. They’ll want to go over your medical and family history and any symptoms you’re having. You’ll also need blood tests and/or scans to confirm the diagnosis. These might include:

Imaging Tests

  • Chest X-Ray – is usually the first tool for spotting large lesions.
  • CT scan – is always used to confirm the x-ray findings. Helps in detecting smaller lesions and other pathologies if any.
  • MRI – occasionally used to gauge the depth of tumor involvement across planes
  • PET CT scan – once the cancer is confirmed or suspected this scan is done to evaluate the spread of the disease and for purposes of staging or as a response to treatment.

Sputum Cytology

If you have a cough and currently produce sputum, looking at the sputum under the microscope can sometimes reveal the presence of lung cancer cells.

Tissue Sample (Biopsy)

A sample of abnormal cells may be removed in a procedure called a biopsy.

Your doctor can perform a biopsy in several ways, including bronchoscopy, in which your doctor examines abnormal areas of your lungs using a lighted tube that’s passed down your throat and into your lungs.


In this procedure, the doctor aims to take tissue samples from the lymph nodes. This is done through an incision at the base of the neck followed by using surgical tools to take the tissue samples.

Careful analysis of your cancer cells in a lab will reveal what type of lung cancer you have. Results of sophisticated testing can tell your doctor the specific characteristics of your cells that can help determine your prognosis and guide your treatment.

This article is informative only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.