How Is Lung Cancer Diagnosed?

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Lung cancer has its association with smoking. Now not just smoking can give you lung cancer, there are other things, secondhand smoke, radon, asbestosis, and so how do you diagnosed with lung cancer? Many times people will get diagnosed at a late stage where it's advanced to the point where you have symptoms such as coughing up blood.

The majority of patients that I see from a surgical stand point who are curable are identified incidentally, so basically they had to test X-ray for something else and something shows up on there. They had a CAT scan for something in their belly and you see something in the lung.

So most of the time it's caught by studies that were done for some other reason and it shows an early lung cancer on there. Now there are many studies, chest X-rays, CAT scans, that will show certain things on there, and they are not always necessarily cancer. So to obtain a diagnosis, you need a piece of tissue that you can look at under the microscope that will actually show that this is a cancer that is invading normal tissues, and how do you get that piece of tissue? There are a variety of ways, you can do a bronchoscopy, where pulmonologists or a thoracic surgeon like myself look down with a scope and take a piece of tissue.

Or you can have something called a needle biopsy where a radiologist puts a needle through the chest and gets a piece of tissue that way. Or sometimes when you can obtain a diagnosis from either one of those methods then you get a surgical biopsy. We use something called VATS, where you make three small holes in the chest and you go ahead and you take a piece of the tissue and you look at it under the microscope, and you find out is it a cancer, or is it not a cancer? Frequently those patients will go home the next day.

So, there are a variety of ways to make the diagnosis, but when you're looking for it chest X-ray will show tumors that are later and bigger and CAT scan will show you earlier tumors, and now there is a whole wide open area of screening for lung cancer. And there was a recent study that came out that showed that screening will help save lives in patients who have lung cancer.

And more than in any other area, screening for breast cancer, screening for colon cancer, screening for prostate cancer. These new studies that came out on lung cancer show that it makes a huge difference when you screen for lung cancer.