Non-Small-Cell Lung Cancer
Getting a Diagnosis
First, your doctor will talk with you so he understands what's been going on. He'll ask questions like:
- When did you first notice problems?
- How have you been feeling?
- Are you coughing or wheezing?
- Does anything make your symptoms better or worse?
- Do you, or did you, smoke?
- Has anyone in your family had lung cancer?
He'll also give you a physical exam. You might need tests, too.
Imaging tests help your doctor find tumors inside your lungs. They can also show whether the cancer has spread.
- X-rays use low doses of radiation to make images of structures inside your body.
- MRI, or magnetic resonance imaging, shows blood flow, organs, and structures.
- Ultrasound creates a picture by bouncing sound waves off tissues inside you.
- PET scans use a radioactive compound or tracer that collects where your cells are very active.
- CT scans are powerful X-rays that make detailed pictures of the tissue and the blood vessels in the lung.
Sputum cytology is a lab test that checks the mucus you cough up for cancer cells.
Fine-needle aspiration biopsy gets cells from an abnormal growth or the fluid in your lungs.
Your doctor may want to look inside your lungs and chest using a thin, flexible tube with a light and tiny camera. He may also take samples of tissue, including from nearby lymph nodes, to check for cancer cells. He can do this a few different ways:
Bronchoscopy goes through your nose or mouth and into your lungs.
Thoracoscopy uses a few small cuts along your side to look at the outside of your lung and the tissue around it.
Mediastinoscopy makes a small cut in your neck to see behind your breastbone, in the space between your lungs.
Based on what your doctor finds, he'll assign a stage, describing where the cancer is. That will help your medical team figure out the best treatment for you.
- Occult (hidden) stage: Cancer cells are in lung fluid or sputum, but he can't find where the cancer is in your lungs.
- Stage 0: Cancer cells are in the lining of your airways.
- Stage I: A small tumor is in only one lung. The cancer hasn't spread to lymph nodes.
- Stage II: A larger tumor is in one lung, or the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes.
- Stage III: Cancer in one lung has spread to farther lymph nodes.
- Stage IV: Cancer has spread to both lungs, to fluid around the lungs, or to other parts of the body, such as the brain and liver.