Debra Wood, RN
The doctor will ask about your symptoms, and medical and family history. A complete physical exam will be done. The lungs, throat, and chest areas will be thoroughly examined. Your doctor may suspect lung cancer based on your symptoms, but will look for other possible causes.
If you have symptoms, your doctor may conduct certain tests to identify abnormalities. These may include:
Diagnosis of lung cancer is confirmed with a biopsy. A biopsy is a tissue sample that is removed from the bronchi or lungs. After removal, the sample is examined under a microscope. This is the only way to confirm a diagnosis of lung cancer.
Biopsies needles may be guided by imaging, such as an MRI scan or ultrasound, to improve accuracy.
Biopsy types include:
If lung cancer is confirmed, results from completed tests and new tests will help determine the stage of cancer. Staging is used to determine characteristics of the tumor that will help develop the prognosis and treatment plan. Factors that play a role in staging include how far the original tumor has spread, whether lymph nodes are involved, if cancer has spread to other tissue, and microscopic cellular details.
Tests that may help determine lung cancer stage:
Staging depends on the type of lung cancer that is found. There are 2 different systems for staging lung cancer:
Non-small cell lung cancer is staged from occult to stage IV:
Small cell lung cancer is staged and classified differently than non-small cell lung cancer:
Lung cancer (non-small cell). American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/cid/documents/webcontent/003115-pdf.pdf. Accessed July 13, 2016.
Lung cancer (small cell). American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/cid/documents/webcontent/003116-pdf.pdf. Accessed July 13, 2016.
Non-small cell lung cancer. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated January 25, 2016. Accessed July 13, 2016.
Small cell lung cancer. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated October 15, 2015. Accessed July 13, 2016.
Stages of non-small cell lung cancer. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/types/lung/patient/non-small-cell-lung-treatment-pdq#section/_134. Updated July 8, 2016. Accessed July 13, 2016.
Stages of small cell lung cancer. National Cancer Institute website. Available at:
http://www.cancer.gov/types/lung/patient/small-cell-lung-treatment-pdq#section/_77. Updated July 7, 2016. Accessed July 13, 2016.
Last reviewed September 2015 by Mohei Abouzied, MD
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