Detecting Lung Cancer

There is a spectrum of tests, ranging from simple to sophisticated, that medical professionals use to detect lung cancer. Your primary care provider or medical specialist can discuss the tests he or she thinks will best identify your condition. 

Lung Cancer Screening

If you meet certain criteria as high risk and you have no symptoms of lung cancer, federal guidelines recommend you be screened for lung cancer with a low-dose CT scan. This screening is covered by most insurance plans and Medicare. High risk is defined as people who are:

  • Aged 55 through 80
  • 30 “Pack Year” Smokers or Ex-Smokers – People who smoked the equivalent of a pack of cigarettes daily for 30 years.
  • Current Smokers or those who quit smoking within the past 15 years.

Diagnostic Testing for Lung Cancer

Below are quick descriptions of common diagnostic tests that are frequently used determine whether lung cancer exists and to identify what kind of cancer it may be.

  • Sputum cytology – Samples of mucus (sputum) you cough up from your lungs, preferably early in the morning, three days in a row, is examined under a microscope to see if it contains cancer cells.
  • Chest x-ray – This is often the first, easiest and least expensive test for lung cancer and may be done at imaging centers, hospitals or even in some doctors’ offices.
  • CT or Low-Dose CT Scans – CT scans of the chest provide cross-sectional and more detailed images than chest x-rays. They are better at finding small abnormal areas in the lungs. Low-dose CT uses less radiation than standard chest CTs and does not require use of intravenous contrast dye.
  • EBUS – The latest ultrasound procedure to create clearer and more accurate imaging is in use at the Abrazo Central Campus and Abrazo West Campus. Our endobronchial ultrasound (EBUS) allows your pulmonologist to take samples for biopsy, and diagnose lung cancer, infections and other diseases causing enlarged lymph nodes in the chest.
  • Thoracentesis – Especially if you are having trouble breathing, your medical specialist may do a procedure to remove excess fluid from the pleural space between your lungs and your chest wall. This can help you breathe more easily, and samples of the fluid can be tested for cancerous cells.
  • Bronchoscopy – A medical specialist called a pulmonologist can visually examine the inner surfaces of the airways in your lungs by passing a tiny camera on a long thin tube called a bronchoscope down your throat and into the airways of your lungs. A small hollow needle on the end of the bronchoscope can get a sample of suspicious tissue to be biopsied in the pathology lab.
  • PET Scan – Cancer cells inside your lungs may be identified with a sophisticated medical imaging system called positron emission tomography, or a PET scan.

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