Screening and Diagnosis

Lung cancer screening is extremely important since lung cancer might not have symptoms in its early stages. Screening can help us find any abnormalities that suggest early lung cancer. The earlier the stage of disease the treatment starts, the better the chance of a cure. Research shows the most effective lung cancer screening uses low-dose computed tomography (CT) scans. This approach can also help doctors find other conditions such as heart disease. Studies have demonstrated that lung cancer screening with low-dose CT can reduce the mortality of lung cancer by 20-25 percent when done in defined high-risk populations (over the age of 50 years and a tobacco history of at least 20 pack-years).

Imaging Tests

Physicians use imaging tests to help diagnose and track lung cancer. They create pictures of the inside of your body. The most common types of imaging tests we use are:

  • X-Rays: We usually start with an X-ray of your chest to see if there are any abnormal areas in your chest. If we see something suspicious, we often order additional diagnostic tests.
  • Computed Tomography (CT) Scans: CT scans use X-ray technology to take multiple pictures of the inside of your chest. The machine puts these pictures together to develop a detailed cross-sectional “slice” of your chest. It shows the size, shape, and position of any lung tumors as well as any spread to the adrenal glands, liver, brain, or other body parts. We also use CT scans to guide biopsies.
  • Positron Emission Tomography (PET) Scans: A PET scan is an imaging test that uses a radioactive drug to help show how your tissues and organs are functioning. We often use PET technology together with CT scans to take a close look at the lungs.
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): As with CT scans, MRIs show us pictures of soft tissue. But MRIs use radio waves and strong magnets, instead of X-rays. We often use MRIs to see if the cancer has spread to the brain or spinal cord.

If we find any abnormalities, your doctor will order further diagnostic tests, such as fine-needle aspiration, bronchoscopy, endobronchial ultrasound, and molecular testing.