When you go to your appointment, your doctor will do a complete physical exam and review your medical history. If the doctor suspects lung cancer, you’ll get a chest X-ray. Based on what the X-ray shows, you might need further tests, such as:
CT scan. This test creates an image with multiple X-rays taken from various angles around your body. You lie on a table that passes slowly through a large X-ray machine. Most scanners surround only parts of your body, not your whole body. The table remains motionless while the machine moves around you. You might hear whirring sounds. The technician might ask you to hold your breath at times throughout the process. The test could take a few minutes or up to 30 minutes.
PET scan. This one measures the activity of a mass, lump, or node to see how large it is or whether the cancer has spread to other body parts. It can also check how well treatment works. You lie on an exam table for the scan. You might get an IV in a vein in your arm or hand. Or you might have to swallow or inhale a chemical that helps the machine detect tumor activity in your body. The test takes 30 minutes to 3 hours depending on how much tissue the doctor wants to evaluate. You stay on the table while the technician looks at the images in case there’s a need for more.
Bronchoscopy. This exam shows the inside of your airway. A doctor puts a tube with a light and camera attached into your airway through your nose or mouth. If there are any abnormal growths or tissue, the doctor can take a piece of it for testing.
Thoracentesis. This test analyzes cells in the fluid around the lungs and relieves breathing trouble that the fluid may cause. A doctor inserts a long needle into your chest and into the space between your chest wall and lungs and draws fluid out.
Sputum cytology. This is an analysis of cells found in the sputum -- a thick mucus that the lungs produce. You cough up mucus into a cup for this test. The sample goes out to a lab. If you can’t cough, you may need to inhale a saline mist to help you.
Lung biopsy. A doctor removes tissue from your lungs for analysis. Similar to the thoracentesis, the doctor inserts a long needle into your chest. This time, the doctor draws out a small bit of lung tissue, which goes to a lab for testing.
Video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS). You might have this surgery so a doctor can get lung tissue samples for analysis. You get medicine to numb part of your chest. Then the doctor cuts a small opening there. A tube with a camera on it (thoracoscope) goes into the opening, and a doctor removes a piece of tissue. After removing the scope, the doctor stitches the incision.