Symptoms of Lung Cancer
Lung cancer may cause one or more of the following symptoms:
- A cough that gets worse or does not go away
- Shortness of breath
- Constant chest pain
- Coughing up blood
- Frequent lung infections, such as pneumonia
- Persistent fatigue
- Unexplained weight loss
Keep in mind that these symptoms can also indicate conditions other than lung cancer. If you are experiencing any of these conditions, contact your doctor as soon as possible so that the cause can be diagnosed and treated promptly.
Diagnostic Tests for Lung Cancer
If you experience symptoms of lung cancer or if a screening test shows signs of the disease (‘positive findings’ or ‘suspicious findings’), your doctor may recommend one or more tests:
- A physical exam: Your doctor will listen to your breathing and check for fluid in the lungs
- Computed tomography (CT) scan: Uses X-rays and a computer to create cross-sectional pictures of your lungs
- PET scan: Offers prognostic information to help your doctor evaluate an indeterminate pulmonary nodule. Shown to be a more accurate imaging tool than a CT scan when determining benign or malignant lesions, as well as metastatic spread and staging.
- Biopsy: Your doctor will take a cell or tissue sample and a pathologist will examine it under a microscope for the presence of lung cancer.
Your doctor will select the best way to obtain a tissue sample for biopsy. Various methods include the following procedures:
- Sputum cytology: Your doctor will ask you to cough up some phlegm and will take a sample of the mucus.
- Thoracentesis: Your doctor uses a long needle to remove fluid from inside the lungs (pleural fluid).
- Bronchoscopy: A thoracic surgeon or a pulmonologist passes a thin, flexible tube with a light on the end into your mouth or nose, down through the main windpipe and into the breathing passages of the lungs. Tiny tools inside the tube can be used to take samples of fluid or tissue.
- Fine-needle aspiration: Your doctor uses a thin needle to remove tissue or fluid from the lung or from a lymph node, sometimes guided by a CT scan or other imaging method.
- Thoracoscopy: A thoracic surgeon makes several small incisions in your chest and back and uses a thin, lighted tube to look at the lungs and nearby tissues. If an abnormal area is seen, a tiny tool is passed through the tube to take a cell sample.
Keep in mind that these tests can also eliminate lung cancer as the cause of symptoms or findings on lung cancer screening. The studies used to diagnose lung cancer are also useful in planning treatment.