Getting Diagnosed with Lung Cancer

If you suspect that you, or someone you love, has lung cancer you'll certainly want to understand the diagnosis process. Before jumping to conclusions or worrying too much about what you'll be going through, get the facts about diagnosis and understand what questions to ask your doctor about lung cancer.

Going to the Doctor

If you suspect that you have lung cancer, you'll certainly want to start with your general practitioner. This doctor will ask you about your health and will do a full examination. You'll then be referred to the hospital for X-rays and other tests. You'll have a chest X-ray, probably, to look at your lungs. You'll also probably have some routine blood tests done. Finally, you may be asked to bring some samples of phlegm to the hospital so that they can be examined for cancer cells.

The Bronchoscopy

At the hospital, the doctor will ask you about your medical history and your symptoms. You'll have some, or all, of the following tests:

A bronchoscopy looks inside the airways. It's done with a tube that has an eye piece which is put down your throat. It's often done as an outpatient procedure with local anesthetics. If you need to have sedation, your doctor will request that you not eat or drink anything on the morning of the test. During the test, the doctor will take tissue samples and may take photographs of the inside of your airways. After the bronchoscopy, you won't be able to eat or drink until the local anesthetic has worn off. This usually takes an hour. You won't be able to drive until the following day, as the sedative can make you feel groggy for quite awhile. You may also have a sore throat for a few days after the test.

The PET-CT Scan

Prior to having a bronchoscopy or biopsy, you may have a PET-CT. This scan can show were the cancer is by taking CT pictures of the structure of your body. A slightly radioactive drug will also show areas of the body where the cells appear to be more active than normal.

The Tumor Biopsy

If a lung tumor is detected, you'll probably have a biopsy of the lung tissue done. The doctor will put a thin needle through the skin and muscle of your chest to get cell samples from your lung tumor. You will often have this test as an outpatient in the X-ray department and the test will only take a few minutes. You will have a local anesthetic injected into this area. The sample of cells is extracted with a syringe and is then sent to be examined under a microscope.

Questions to Ask

If you've visited the doctor and are going to have any of these tests done, it's important to know what questions to ask. You'll want to ask your doctor what they are looking for and whether the tests will show if you have cancer. You'll want to know if the tests will be painful, how long they'll take, and if you'll need someone to bring you home (or if you'll be staying overnight). You'll want to ask the doctor if you will have a sedative or general anesthetic. Finally, you should find out how long it will take to get results. With these questions, and a basic understanding of the first tests in mind, you should be ready to tackle your first visit to check for lung cancer.