What Tests Help My Doctor Find Lung Cancer?

To find out if you have cancer, your doctor will ask you some questions and run some tests. You will talk about the following issues:

  • Your medical history

  • Your smoking history

  • Your family history of cancer

  • Other risk factors you may have been exposed to

Your doctor may also do a physical exam, a chest X-ray, and other tests.

One test you may have is a sputum cytology. Sputum is the mucus and other substances you cough up from your lungs. Cancer cells often show up in the sputum. For a sputum cytology test, you collect your sputum in a special jar to give to your doctor. Then the sputum is looked at under a microscope.

Based on all the results of these tests, your doctor decides whether to take a biopsy.

How Your Doctor Uses a Biopsy to Help Diagnose Lung Cancer

Having a biopsy is the only way to know for sure if you have cancer. To take a biopsy, your doctor removes fluid or a small bit of the tumor or suspicious area. There are several ways your doctor can remove these cells. Your doctor will explain how he or she will do this before the procedure. The removed cells from either the fluid or a small piece of tissue are then checked for cancer under a microscope. It usually takes a few days to get the results of your biopsy. After the results come back, your doctor will know if you have lung cancer. The biopsy also shows what type of lung cancer it is.

Doctors, like all people, have their own preferences and styles for how to communicate. If there is a way you would like to be told about the results of your tests in the future, let your doctor know. For example, some people would prefer to know sooner and find out over the phone than wait for the next appointment to be told their results. Your doctor may want to tell you face to face and have you wait until your next appointment.

Medical Reviewer: [Fisher, Graeme MD, Knoop, Teresa MSN, RN, AOCN®, Rick AlteriRick Alteri MD] Last Annual Review Date: 2008-01-28T00:00:00-07:00 Copyright: © 2007 CancerSource, 280 Summer Street, 9th Floor, Boston, MA 02210. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare provider's instructions.

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If you're a smoker, quitting now won't reduce your risk of developing lung cancer.