Lung Cancer Diagnosis

Various tests can be used to evaluate and verify a lung cancer diagnosis, including:

  • Imaging studies. X-rays may reveal an abnormal mass or nodule the lungs. Computerized tomography (CT) scans may reveal small lesions in the lungs that might not be visible on x-rays.
  • Sputum cytology. If the patient has a cough and is producing sputum, the sputum can be collected and examined under a microscope to see if lung cancer cells are present to assist in the diagnosis of lung cancer.
  • Biopsy. In this procedure, a sample of cells is removed and checked by a lab for the presence of cancer. A biopsy can be performed in a number of ways, including:
    • Bronchoscopy. A lighted tube is passed down the throat and into the lungs to collect tissue.
    • Mediastinoscopy. An incision is made at the base of the neck and surgical tools are inserted behind the breastbone to take tissue samples.
    • Needle biopsy. X-ray or CT images are used to guide a needle through the chest wall and into the lung to collect cell samples.

Lung Cancer Staging

Once a diagnosis of lung cancer has been made, it is important to determine the extent of the cancer—a process called staging. Staging helps in determining which treatment is most appropriate. Staging may require additional imaging tests to look for evidence that cancer has spread beyond the lungs. These tests may include CT scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), positron emission tomography (PET) scans and bone scans.

Stages of Lung Cancer

  • Stage I.
    The cancer is limited to the lung and hasn’t spread to the lymph nodes.
  • Stage II.
    At this stage, the tumor is larger than two inches, or it involves nearly structures, such as the chest wall, the diaphragm or the lining around the lungs. The cancer may also have spread to the nearby lymph nodes.
  • Stage III.
    At this stage, the tumor may have grown large and invaded other organs near the lungs. Or, cancer cells are found in lymph nodes that are far away from the lungs.
  • Stag IV.
    The cancer has spread beyond the originally affected lung to the other lung, or to distant areas of the body.

Lung Cancer Screening

According to American Cancer Society guidelines, patients who meet all of the following criteria may be candidates for lung cancer screening with a CT scan:

  • 55-74 years of age
  • In fairly good health
  • Have at least a 30 pack-year history of smoking
  • Are either still smoking or have quit smoking within the last 15 years

The Lung Cancer Institute at Saint Barnabas Medical Center

At the Lung Cancer Institute in Livingston, NJ, we provide a multidisciplinary, collaborative approach to lung cancer care. Our team of lung cancer specialists has experience in treating both early-stage and complex cases of lung cancer. Our goal is to provide each patient with a personalized treatment plan that matches their needs, and offers the lowest risk and highest chance of cure.