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Non-Small-Cell Lung Cancer


Getting a Diagnosis continued...

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.

Questions for Your Doctor

Hearing you have cancer can feel overwhelming. You may want to start by asking your doctor:

  • How serious is my lung cancer?
  • Has it spread, where to, and what does that mean?
  • What are my cancer treatment options? How well do they work?
  • What are the side effects?
  • What other treatments might I need to feel OK?
  • Will I have to stop working while having treatment?
  • What happens if the cancer continues to spread?
  • Have you treated anyone else with this type of lung cancer?
  • Can I take part in clinical trials? How can I find out about that?
  • Is there a medical center that takes care of my kind of cancer regularly that I could go to?

Ask a friend or family member to go with you to your appointments for emotional support and to help you understand what the doctor tells you.

You may feel more comfortable getting a second opinion before deciding on your treatment plan.


Doctors treat this kind of lung cancer in two ways: They target the cancer itself, and they try to make you feel better. Their goal is to stay ahead of the symptoms and make you as comfortable as possible. Your doctor may suggest a combination of treatments, depending on what kind of cancer you have and where it is.

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