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Lung cancer

Signs & symptoms

Diagnosis

There are many tests and exams used to diagnose lung cancer. Your doctor may use some of these tests. Not all tests are necessary or appropriate for every person:

  • Your medical history. The doctor may ask:
    • What medical problems have you had?
    • Have you smoked ? How much and for how long? Have people around you smoked?
    • Where have you lived and worked, what kind of work have you done?
    • What is your family history of cancer?
    • What symptoms have you noticed?
  • Physical exam
  • Chest x-ray
  • Sputum analysis. The doctor collects your sputum (the phlegm you cough up) and tests it for cancerous cells.
  • Bronchoscopy. You need to be sedated (to "go under" general anesthesia) for this test. The doctor slides a thin, flexible tube (a bronchoscope) through your mouth or nose and into your lungs. The bronchoscope can help find tumours. If it finds a tumour, it can break off a small piece of it. Doctors examine this tumour piece under a microscope to help make the diagnosis.
  • Needle biopsy. The doctor gives you local anesthesia so you don't feel pain, and then slides a thin needle into your chest. The needle collects a small piece of the tumour, which doctors examine under a microscope.
  • Mediastinoscopy. This test helps your doctor know if the cancer has spread to any of your lymph nodes (glands in your body's lymphatic system). First, you will be put under general anesthesia (in a deep sleep). The doctor makes a small cut in your neck and inserts a thin tube. The tube collects fluid samples and biopsies (pieces of tissue) from the lymph nodes near your throat and lungs. The samples are tested for cancerous cells.
  • CT scan (also called a CAT scan or Computerized Axial Tomography) CT scans take many detailed x-rays that are blended together by a computer. You lie in a long tube of the CT scan machine and stay very still as the x-rays are being taken. After the first scan, you may get a injection of dye (radiocontrast agent) to help the CT scan take a clearer picture. The CT scan is painless but you may find it uncomfortable to stay still. The CT scan gives very accurate information about your condition.