Cancer Support Group

Thursday, Apr 15th

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Lung Cancer Diagnostic Tests

There are various screening tests performed to diagnose lung cancer: Medical history and physical exam, Imaging tests, Computed Tomography (CT scan), Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), Sputum cytology, Needle biopsy, Bronchoscopy.

Screening tests for lung cancer
Medical history and physical exam
A medical history (health–related interview) will check for risk factors and symptoms. A physical examination will provide information about signs of lung cancer and other health problems.

Imaging tests for Lung Cancer
Imaging tests use X–rays, magnetic fields, sound waves or radioactive substances to create pictures of the inside of the body. Several imaging tests are often used to find lung cancer and determine where in the body it may have spread. A chest X–ray is done to look for any mass or spot on the lungs.

Computed Tomography (CT scan)
Computed Tomography will provide more precise information about the size, shape, and position of a tumor, and can help find enlarged lymph nodes that might contain cancer that has spread from the lung. CT scans are more sensitive than a routine chest X–ray in finding early lung cancers. This test is also used in detecting masses in the liver, adrenal glands, brain and other internal organs that may be affected by the spread of lung cancer. The CT scan involves a special machine that rotates around the body taking X–ray from many angles. A computer then combines their pictures into a very detailed cross–sectional image.

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Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
Magnetic resonance imaging scans use powerful magnets and radio waves and computers to take detailed cross–sectional images. These images are similar to those produced by CT scanning, and are particularly useful in detecting spread of lung cancer to the brain or spinal cord. Unlike CT scanning, MRI does not involve X–rays.

Sputum cytology
A sample of phlegm is examined under a microscope to see if cancer cells are present.

Needle biopsy
A needle can be guided into the mass while the lungs are being viewed with fluoroscopy (fluoroscopy is like an X–ray, but the image is viewed on a screen rather than on film). CT scans can also be used for needle placement. Unlike fluoroscopy, CT doesn’t provide a continuous picture so the needle is inserted in the direction of the mass, a CT image is taken, and the direction of the needle is adjusted based on the image. This process is repeated a few times until the CT image confirms that the needle is within the mass. A sample of the mass is removed and looked at under the microscope to see if cancer cells are present.

After the patient is sedated, a fiber optic flexible, lighted tube is passed through the mouth into the bronchi (the larger tubes which carry air to the lungs). This can help find centrally–located tumors or blockages in the lungs. It can also be used to take biopsies (samples of tissue) or samples of lung secretions to be examined under a microscope for cancer cells.


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