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Non-Small-Cell Lung Cancer

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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.

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