Lung Cancer Diagnosis
Lung cancer is often diagnosed in the late stages of the disease, largely because there are few or no symptoms in the early stages. Having an awareness of the risk and reducing it, plus early detection, can change everything.
Lung Cancer Detection
At UT Southwestern Medical Center, cancer specialists in the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center offer advanced detection and diagnosis for lung cancer.
Imaging for Lung Cancer
Imaging tests can include:
- Computed tomography (CT) scan, which can reveal small lesions on the lungs that X-rays might not detect
- PET scan, which can help differentiate between normal tissues and cancer
- Bone scan
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of different body organs
Special Screening Test
UT Southwestern, in partnership with MD Anderson Cancer Center, offers a CT screening test, possibly at no cost to patients, that can detect lung cancer early.
This screening program is for patients who:
- Are 55 years of age or older
- Smoked at least the equivalent of a pack of cigarettes a day for 30 years
- Have no history of cancer
- Do not have symptoms of lung cancer identified by a doctor
If a patient qualifies for the screening, he or she will undergo a CT exam, which involves lying flat on the CT table while the scanner rotates around the patient, gathering images of the inside of the lungs.
The CT images provide our radiologists with detailed information that can be used to detect and diagnose lung cancer or determine if someone is cancer free. The entire screening exam typically requires a single breath hold and is usually completed in less than 10 seconds.
Also as part of the screening program, patients will need to provide a blood sample.
A low-radiation dose computed tomography (LDCT) scan of the chest is recommended for specific people at high risk of developing lung cancer. Patients can check with a doctor to see if they qualify for LDCT screening.
Bronchoscopy is an outpatient procedure that allows your doctor to examine your airways for abnormalities. Sometimes an X-ray is used during the procedure.
Pathology and Cytology Biopsies
Biopsies are obtained from lung nodules, lung masses, lymph nodes within the chest, and other lesions within or outside the chest. Our team performs biopsies using state-of-the-art, minimally invasive surgical, interventional radiology, and interventional pulmonary procedures.
- CT- and ultrasound-guided biopsies
- General bronchoscopy
- Advanced diagnostic-guided bronchoscopy procedures using endobronchial ultrasound probes, navigational bronchoscopy, thin and ultra thin bronchoscopy, and other techniques
- Thoracentesis and pleuroscopy
- Minimally invasive robotic and video-assisted thoracoscopic surgical sampling techniques
Lung Cancer Stages
If lung cancer has been diagnosed, our team will perform additional tests to stage the cancer, or determine if the cancer has spread locally or outside the chest. We stage lung cancer using endobronchial or endoscopic ultrasound or ultrasound-guided needle biopsy, or by removing fluid from the chest cavity.
Lung cancer stages are:
- Stage 0 and Stage 1 lung tumors are generally small in size and have not spread to other areas of the body. These stages are often referred to as early-stage lung cancer. At these stages, the cancer treatment team might suggest surgery, such as robotic lobectomy, to completely remove the tumor.
- Stage 2 lung tumors are somewhat larger and might have begun to spread to nearby lymph nodes. The cancer treatment team might recommend surgery alone or in combination with medical treatment or radiation treatments.
- Stage 3 lung cancer has begun to spread, perhaps to the lymph nodes located in the center of the chest, or perhaps into nearby structures in the lung. At this stage, it’s less likely that surgery alone will be able to successfully treat the cancer, so the UT Southwestern team might recommend a combination of surgery, medical treatment, and/or radiation therapy.
- Stage 4 is the most advanced stage of lung cancer. The cancer has spread to both lungs or another part of the body. At this stage, surgery is unlikely to be effective, and the UT Southwestern specialists might recommend medical treatment.