Lung Cancer Diagnosis

Lung cancer is a disease that begins in the lungs. It often spreads to the liver, bones, brain or adrenal glands. A lung cancer diagnosis often requires several steps.

Physical exam

The first step in diagnosing lung cancer is a physical exam. Unequal pupils, weakness in one arm, a mass in the abdomen, swollen lymph nodes at the collarbone, dullness when tapping the chest, rounding of the fingernails, abnormal sounds in the lung and swelling on the face are some of the symptoms that indicate the possibility of lung cancer. A blood test that checks hormones and substances can also help confirm the possibility.


A chest X-ray is often the next step in diagnosing lung cancer. If lung cancer is causing some of the most common symptoms, it will be visible on an X-ray. At times, lung X-rays taken for other health problems reveal unexpected lung cancer. When this happens, the doctor normally orders a CT scan in order to see more clearly what is happening in the lungs.

Pulmonary function tests

Once a doctor is certain that a patient has lung cancer, he will order pulmonary function tests. These tests indicate the respiratory reserve and the lung capacity of the patient. These statistics show the doctor whether or not the patient can tolerate radiation or surgery.


There are various methods of biopsy that can help doctors confirm the diagnosis of lung cancer. A bronchoscopy is done by inserting a tube with a light through the nose and down into the lungs. The doctor removes a tiny sample of tissue. This works well when the cancer is in the central part of the lungs.

For a mediastinocopy, a doctor makes a small incision at the bottom of the neck. The doctor then takes a biopsy of the lymph nodes in the chest. After a pathologist examines the tissue, the surgeon will be able to determine the stage of the cancer and whether or not surgery can be done.

When a fine needle is used to remove tissue, it is inserted through the chest directly into the tumor or lymph node. It can also be inserted through the esophagus in order to remove lymph node tissue. Doctors often guide the needle with the use of computed tomography imaging guidance.

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