Diagnosis and Staging

Diagnosis and staging of lung cancer is critical to receive the most appropriate treatment in a timely manner. Working with a team with expertise in lung cancer is important to achieve the best possible outcome.

Patients are typically diagnosed in the following scenarios:

  • Incidental finding: Patients can have an x-ray for another reason like before an orthopedic or heart work up and an abnormal nodule in the lung is found. Usually these patients do not have any symptoms related to the lung cancer and are usually early stage.
  • Symptoms: Patients may present for evaluation of a symptom such as a cough or weight loss, and then an abnormal x-ray is found. Symptoms develop as the disease stage advances.
  • Screening: Patients with higher risk factors for lung cancer may be eligible for lung cancer screening using low dose CT scans, which can help detect lung caner at an early stage. Please ask your doctor to see if you are eligible.

When lung cancer is suspected, a biopsy may be performed. There are several methods for biopsy including radiology needle biopsies, bronchoscopy exams and surgery. The goal is to obtain tissue for the pathologists to examine and diagnose the type of cancer. Our team can determine quickly the most effective method for diagnosis and treatment, often avoiding unnecessary tests and delays in treatment.

Staging, or determining the extent of the cancer, is based on whether the cancer is confined to the lungs or whether it has spread to other organs or the lymph nodes. Staging usually includes one or more tests such as a CT scan and PET scan, which is a study that uses a radioactive label on a sugar molecule that is trapped by cancer tissue and then is visible on a scan picture. Some tests to determine the stage may include a biopsy of any suspected lesions or of the regional lymph nodes with endobronchial ultrasound (EBUS) or mediastinoscopy to evaluate for any spread.

This process is important for determining the severity of lung cancer and developing the best available treatment plan. Once the process is complete, your physician will discuss the results with you and recommend a personalized treatment plan.