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Lung Cancer - Exams and Tests

Initial tests

Your doctor will first do a physical exam and ask about your medical history to find out your risk for lung cancer and look for any lung problems. The exam may include a chest X-ray and blood test.

If your exam suggests that you may have lung cancer, your doctor may recommend other tests, such as:

Recommended Related to Lung Cancer

Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer: When You Need More Than One Treatment

“We work in a team when it comes to planning care for a lung cancer patient,” says Steven E. Schild, MD, professor and chairman of the department of radiation oncology at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz. This means that you will be working with one or more of the following specialists:   Pulmonologist – a lung specialist Medical Oncologist – a doctor who specializes in cancer treatments Thoracic Surgeon – a doctor who specializes in chest surgery Radiation Oncologist – a doctor...

Read the Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer: When You Need More Than One Treatment article > >

Tests after diagnosis

After lung cancer has been diagnosed, testing is done to find out whether the cancer has spread (metastasized) to other organs in your body and to determine the stage of the cancer.

Tests include:

If you have non-small cell lung cancer, your doctor may check for tumor markers (biomarkers), such as EGFR, ALK, and KRAS, that are caused by gene changes (mutations) in cancer cells. This can help your doctor choose the treatment that will work best for you.

Tests before surgery

A person whose lungs aren't working well may not be a good candidate for surgery. If surgery to remove cancer in all or part of a lung is being considered, the following tests may be done:

Screening tests

Screening tests help your doctor look for a certain disease or condition before any symptoms appear. This can increase your chance of finding the problem at a more treatable stage. Studies have not yet shown that routine screening for lung cancer saves lives or prevents lung cancer.

Screening may help people whose risk for lung cancer is higher than normal. Talk to your doctor about the pros and cons of screening tests if you:

  • Are a smoker.
  • Have had radiation treatment to the chest area.
  • Have some other reason for higher risk.

Several studies have looked at the use of chest X-rays, sputum cytologies, or spiral CT to screen for lung cancer. Screening with chest X-rays or sputum didn't improve survival. But a large research study found that screening with low-dose spiral CT reduced lung cancer deaths among current and former smokers.6 Screening with low-dose CT scans may help if you are older than 55 and are a heavy smoker.7

While screening tests may aid in the early diagnosis of lung cancer, they can also show abnormal findings, such as nodules, that are not cancer. This is known as a false-positive, which can cause you to have more tests or even treatment that you don't need.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: September 12, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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