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Lung Cancer Diagnosis

Shortness of breath. Persistent cough. Hoarseness. These symptoms tend to creep up slowly and can be signs of illness, like bronchitis or pneumonia, or a much more serious condition, such as lung cancer. Symptoms like these shouldn't be ignored. The first step is contacting your doctor. Kettering Cancer Care is here to help you find the answers you need every step of the way.

A chest x-ray is often the first test your doctor will do to look for masses or spots on the lungs. If something suspicious is seen, your doctor may order more tests.

A CT (or CAT) scan is more likely to show lung tumors than routine chest x-rays. A CT scan can also provide precise information about the size, shape, and position of any lung tumors and can help find enlarged lymph nodes that might contain cancer that has spread from the lung. This test can also be used to look for masses in the adrenal glands, liver, brain, and other internal organs that might be due to the spread of lung cancer.

If someone has a suspicious chest x-ray or CT scan, further testing may be necessary. A lung specialist (pulmonologist) can perform special procedures such as a bronchoscopy, in which a long, thin tube (called a bronchoscope) is passed down the throat and into the airway to reach the area and get a sample.

Kettering Heath Network offers the most advanced method for reaching and sampling areas of the lung that may be too difficult to reach by usual methods. 3D Navigational Bronchoscopy is available at Kettering Medical Center, Grandview Medical Center, and Fort Hamilton Hospital. Your physician may refer you to one of the expert pulmonologists at Kettering Health Network who can perform this highly accurate, advanced procedure.

A biopsy is a procedure that takes a sample of a suspicious area of organ tissue so it can be examined under a microscope by a pathologist. A lung biopsy can be performed by bronchoscopy or through the skin to remove a small piece of tissue from the suspected area. The pathologist, a highly trained physician who specializes in the study of bodily fluids and tissues, then examines the sample to determine if it's cancerous.

MRI scans are most often used to look for possible spread of lung cancer to the brain or spinal cord.

Like CT scans, MRI scans provide detailed images of soft tissues in the body. But MRI scans use radio waves and strong magnets instead of x-rays. Gadolinium is often injected into a vein before the scan to show the tumor better.

A PET scan involves a form of radioactive sugar (FDG) that is injected into the blood. A special camera creates a picture of areas of radioactivity in the body. This can determine if the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes or other areas of the body and may help to determine if surgery is an option for you. A PET scan can also be helpful in getting a better idea whether an abnormal area on a chest x-ray or CT scan might be cancer.

There are 3 major types of lung cancer. It is important to know which one you have so that your physicians can prescribe the best treatment for you.

  • Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) is the most common type. This includes adenocarcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and large cell carcinoma.
  • Small cell lung cancer tends to grow rapidly and spread to other parts of the bod. But it also responds well to chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
  • Carcinoid lung cancer is not common. It tends to grow slower than other types of lung cancers and is made of neuroendocrine cells.