September 24, 2020

Diagnosing Lung Cancer

Lung cancer is the second most common cancer in men and women. The two main types of lung cancer are non-small cell lung cancer and small-cell lung cancer. They differ in the look and biology of the cancer cells, how they spread, and how they respond to treatment. Here we’ll outline the different types of diagnostic lung cancer tests and what you can expect.

How’s Lung Cancer Diagnosed and Staged?

Diagnosing lung cancer differs from person to person. Your doctors will choose tests based on a number of factors, including:

  • Your medical history
  • Your symptoms
  • Findings from your medical exam

Screening is looking for cancer before you have any symptoms, which helps catch it at an earlier stage when it may be easier to treat.

Staging means finding out if and how much the lung cancer has spread, which will help shape your recommended treatment plan. Staging is important because your treatment plan and outlook for recovery depend on the stage of your lung cancer. 

Lung Cancer: The Road to Recovery

Listen to our conversation with Tracy Hagan, APRN as she describes in detail the types of lung cancer, its stages, and typical treatment plans.

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Types of Lung Cancer Tests and Procedures

Your healthcare providers will use tests and tools designed for diagnosing lung cancer, evaluating the disease, and developing your treatment plan. They’ll use imaging and laboratory tests to track the size of your tumor(s), monitor your response to treatment, and make any changes to your treatment plan. The tests designed for diagnosing lung cancer include:


A chest X-ray provides images of the lungs and surrounding tissue using high-energy electromagnetic radiation. Chest X-rays can reveal abnormalities such as shaded areas, which may be evaluated later to determine whether they’re tumors.

Lab Tests

Advanced genomic testing examines a tumor at the genetic level to look for the DNA alterations that are driving the cancer’s growth. Identifying the mutations that occur in a cancer cell’s genome makes it easier to understand what caused the tumor, which helps tailor your treatment. 

Another lab test is a nutrition panel, which evaluates deficiencies of nutrients, such as vitamin D and iron. This will help identify the nutrients you need to be replaced or boosted.


A CT scan creates a 3D picture of your lungs, but it can miss small tumors if part of the lung is collapsed, which is often the case. A PET scan goes beyond anatomy to show what’s happening at the cellular level in your lung tissues. 

By combining PET/CT technology, your doctors can find where the healthy lung tissue ends and the tumor begins. A PET scan also reveals cancerous cells before structural changes have occurred. This approach helps pinpoint tumors to help properly diagnose and stage the disease. 


A chest ultrasound is a noninvasive exam that uses ultrasound waves to produce images of your lungs. 


During a lung biopsy procedure, your doctor will remove a small piece of tissue or fluid from your chest so it can be examined under a microscope to check for cancer cells.

Lung Nodule Diagnosis

If an imaging test has revealed a lung nodule, your doctor may recommend some of the other tests described above to determine whether it’s cancerous.


Bronchoscopy is a procedure a doctor uses to look inside your lungs. This is done with a bronchoscope, a thin, flexible tube with a light and a lens, or a small video camera on the end. This test will help your doctor find tumors or blockages in the larger airways of your lungs, which can then be biopsied.

Take Charge Of Your Lung Health

It’s important to get diagnosed as early as possible for lung cancer. If you’d like to learn more, schedule an eVisit to talk with a Baptist Health doctor. If you think you’re at risk for lung cancer, take a Health Risk Assessment from Baptist Health today.

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