Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
Jay W. Marks, MD, is a board-certified internist and gastroenterologist. He graduated from Yale University School of Medicine and trained in internal medicine and gastroenterology at UCLA/Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.
See a health-care provider as soon as possible if any of the following develop:
Any symptom of lung cancer
New cough or change in an existing cough
Hemoptysis (flecks of blood in the sputum when coughing)
Unexplained weight loss
Unexplained persistent fatigue
Unexplained deep aches or pains
Go immediately to the nearest hospital emergency
department if any of the following occur:
Coughing up a large amount of blood
Sudden shortness of breath
Sudden vision problems
Persistent chest pain
Lung Cancer Diagnosis
Upon hearing about the symptoms, a health-care provider will formulate a list of possible diagnoses. He or she will ask questions about the symptoms, medical and surgical history, smoking and work history, and other questions about lifestyle, overall health, and medications.
Unless severe hemoptysis is occurring, a chest
X-ray will most likely be performed first to look for a cause of the respiratory symptoms.
The X-ray may or may not show an abnormality.
Types of abnormalities seen in lung cancer include a
small nodule or nodules or a large mass.
Not all abnormalities observed on a chest X-ray are cancers. For example,
some people develop scarring and calcium deposits in their lungs that may look
like tumors on a chest X-ray.
In most cases, a CT scan or MRI of the chest will further define the problem.
If symptoms are severe, the X-ray may be skipped and
a CT scan or MRI may be performed right away.
The advantages of CT scan and MRI are that they show much greater detail
than X-rays and are able
to show the lungs in three dimensions.
These tests help determine the stage of the cancer by
showing the size of the tumor or tumors.
They can also help identify spread of the cancer into nearby lymph nodes or certain other organs.
If a person's chest X-ray or scan suggests that a tumor is present, he or she will undergo a procedure for diagnosis.
This procedure involves collection of sputum, removal of a small piece of
the tumor tissue (biopsy) or a small
volume of fluid from the sac around the lung.
The retrieved cells are reviewed under a microscope
by a doctor who specializes in diagnosing diseases by looking at cell and
tissue types (a pathologist).
Several different ways exist to obtain these cells.
Sputum testing: This is a simple test that is sometimes performed to detect cancer in the lungs.
Sputum is thick mucus that may be produced during a
Cells in the sputum can be examined to see if they
are cancerous. This is called cytologic review.
This is not a completely reliable test. If negative, the findings usually need to be confirmed by further testing.
Bronchoscopy: This is an endoscopic test, meaning that a thin, flexible, lighted tube with a tiny camera on the end is used to view organs inside the body.
Bronchoscopy is endoscopy of the
lungs. The bronchoscope is inserted through the mouth or nose and down the
windpipe. From there, the tube can be inserted into the airways (bronchi) of
A tiny camera transmits images back to a video
The physician operating the bronchoscope can look for
tumors and collect samples of any suspected tumors.
Bronchoscopy can usually be used to determine the
extent of the tumor.
The procedure is uncomfortable. A local anesthetic is
administered to the mouth and throat as well as sedation to make bronchoscopy
Bronchoscopy has some risks and requires a specialist proficient in performing the procedure.