Lung Cancer Tests, Diagnosis, Stages and Prognosis

How is Lung Cancer Diagnosed?

Lung cancer may be diagnosed from certain symptoms or medical and genetic history. Your doctor will ask you questions about your smoking, medical and family history.

Types of Lung Cancer Tests

Patients often ask how to test for lung cancer. Your doctor may prescribe one or more tests to get an accurate diagnosis. There are various types of diagnostic tests to help detect lung cancer such as:

  • X-rays
  • CT scans
  • PET scans

Blood tests cannot diagnose lung cancer. They can, however, give more insight on overall health which is still valuable information for your doctor. So your doctor may order blood tests for you.

If the results of the imaging scans indicate lung cancer, your doctor will want to obtain a biopsy of the tissue or fluid from your lungs. This test can be performed several different ways. Your doctor will discuss the best option for you. This test will help determine what type of lung cancer that you may have.

When Should You Start Getting Screened for Lung Cancer? 

Lung cancer screening is recommended only for adults at high risk as they have a higher chance of getting the disease. You should schedule a low-dose computerized tomography (CT or CAT scan) every year if you:

  • Are 50-77 years of age
  • Are a current smoker (or former smoker who quit in the past 15 years)
  • Have smoked a pack a day for 20 years or two packs a day for 10 years

What to Expect During Lung Cancer Screening Tests

The most common screening test for lung cancer is either a chest x-ray or a CT scan.   A chest x-ray is usually done standing up with two views.  On front to back and on from the side.  In a CT scan, you will be asked to lie down on a table while you go through the CT scanner. This test will take images of the inside of your body. No matter the test your doctor and physicians will guide you through what to expect for each procedure.

Stages of Lung Cancer

If you are diagnosed with lung cancer, your doctor will perform additional tests to help determine the extent of the cancer. This process is known as staging and will assist your doctor in knowing how to best treat your lung cancer. Common tests ordered are a PET scan, endobronchial ultrasound (EBUS) and a brain MRI.

Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer:

There are four stages of non-small cell lung cancer. The four stages include:

  • Stage 0: Abnormal cells are found that may become cancer
  • Stage 1: The cancer is found only in the lungs
  • Stage 2: The cancer has spread closer to lymph nodes or may be in the lymph nodes
  • Stage 3: The cancer tumor has spread to lymph nodes, to other parts of the lung and possibly to the other lung
  • Stage 4: The cancer is found in both lungs and potentially other parts of the body

Small Cell Lung Cancer:

The stages of small cell lung cancer are:

  • Limited-stage small cell lung cancer
  • Extensive-stage small cell lung cancer

Pulmonologists categorize small cell cancer into these two stages. Limited stage is when lung cancer is only in one lung and extensive stage means that the cancer has spread to other organs.

Prognosis for Lung Cancer

The prognosis for lung cancer is dependent on when the cancer is originally found and if it has spread. If caught early on the survival rate is higher, and the cancer may not have spread. Consult with your doctor to better understand your lung cancer prognosis.

Let the experts at Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center assist with all your lung cancer screening tests and prognosis today.