Screening and Diagnosis
The key to beating lung cancer is diagnosing and treating it early. We are dedicated to providing patients the most innovative and comprehensive cancer care available. Our highly skilled physicians and expert specialists combine patient and family medical history with blood test results and advanced diagnosis tools to detect lung cancer as early as possible, when it’s most treatable.
- Chest X-ray
A chest X-ray uses electromagnetic radiation to take pictures of the chest. X-rays may reveal the presence of tumors or abnormal fluid.
- Computed Tomography (CT) Scan
Doctors often use CT scans to take pictures of tissue inside the chest. The technology uses special X-ray equipment linked to a computer to create detailed pictures. Sentara Cancer Network typically uses a spiral CT scanner, which rotates around a patient lying on a table. The pictures may show a tumor, abnormal fluid or swollen lymph nodes.
- Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scan
PET scans take pictures of organ and tissue function using nuclear medicine technology. PET scans are often combined with 3D images from CT Scans to detect cancer reoccurrence.
The only way to confirm lung cancer is for a pathologist to examine samples of cells or tissue under a microscope, possibly combined with other testing. There are many ways physicians collect samples, including:
- Sputum cytology
Thick fluid called sputum is coughed up from the lungs. The lab checks samples of sputum for cancer cells.
A doctor uses a long needle to remove pleural fluid from the chest, which is then checked for cancer cells.
The doctor inserts a thin, lighted tube called a bronchoscope through the nose or mouth into the lung. This allows the doctor to examine the lungs and air passages, and take a sample of cells with a needle, brush or other tool. The doctor also may wash the area with water to collect cells in the water.
- Fine-needle aspiration
The doctor uses a thin needle to remove tissue or fluid from the lung or lymph node. Sometimes, the doctor uses a CT scan or other imaging method to guide the needle to a lung tumor or lymph node.
The surgeon makes several small incisions in the patient’s chest and back, and then looks at the lungs and nearby tissues with a thin, lighted tube. If an abnormal area is seen, a biopsy to check for cancer cells may be needed.
The surgeon opens the chest with a long incision. Lymph nodes and other tissue may be removed.
The surgeon makes an incision at the top of the breastbone. Using a thin, lighted tube to see inside the chest, the surgeon may take tissue and lymph node samples.