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Different methods to diagnose lung cancer

Lung cancer is often suspected after an abnormal spot is found on a chest x-ray done to evaluate a cough or chest pain. During this frightening time, it is helpful to know some of the procedures that may be recommended to find out if the abnormality is benign (non-cancerous), or malignant (cancerous.)
Diagnosis of lung cancer begins with taking a thorough medical history, including symptoms, and an examination.

History and Physical Examination

The history and physical examination may reveal the presence of symptoms or signs that are suspicious for lung cancer. Cyanosis, a bluish color of the skin and the mucous membranes due to insufficient oxygen in the blood, suggests compromised function due to chronic disease of the lung.

Chest X-ray

It is used to detect enlarged lymph nodes in the chest or a localized mass in the lungs.

CT Scan

It may be performed on the chest, abdomen, and/or brain to examine for both metastatic and lung tumors. CT scans are X-ray procedures that combine multiple images with the aid of a computer to generate cross-sectional views of the body. A CT scan exposes the patient to a minimal amount of radiation. The most common side effect is an adverse reaction to intravenous contrast material that may have been given prior to the procedure. This may result in itching, a rash, or hives that generally disappear rather quickly.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI scan)

is a diagnostic method in which hydrogen ions within the body (and/or specific body parts) are excited by exposure to a magnetic field. The resulting signals are processed by a computer to create an image of the chest to define the location and extent of lung involvement.


It is a visual examination of the windpipe and lung branches performed by a pulmonologist (respiratory disease specialist) using a flexible scope. If the bronchoscopy is still unrevealing, or “negative,” a needle biopsy may be performed.

Needle biopsy

Fine needle aspiration (FNA) uses a slim, hollow needle that is attached to a syringe. The needle is inserted into the suspicious mass and it is pushed back and forth to free some cells, which are aspirated (drawn up) into the syringe and are smeared on a glass slide for analysis.

Bone scan

It may also be performed to rule out suspicions of metastasis to the bones. Metastasis is the process wherein cancerous cells break away from the original tumor, travel, and grow within other body parts.

Positron emission tomography (PET)

It combines the technology of CT scan with the technology of PET (positive emission tomography) scan. PET scans involve injecting a sugar-based radiopharmaceutical, which travels through the body and collects in organs and tissues. The PET scan is used to detect cancer cells in the body and the CT scan provides detailed images that can determine the location and size of the cancer.

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