Lung Cancer Screening and Tests

Medically Reviewed by Dr. K on 6 April 2021

If you smoke or are at risk for lung cancer, you should consider getting a screening test to help the doctor detect the disease before any symptoms appear. Early diagnosis will enable you to start treatment sooner when the situation is more manageable.

Your doctor would most certainly prescribe “diagnostic" scans if your screening indicates you might have lung cancer. These will determine the cancer's nature and whether or not it has spread to other parts of the body.

When you have symptoms of lung cancer, such as a persistent cough, shortness of breath, or chest pain, the doctor can use screening testing to figure out what's wrong.

Who Should Get Screened?

Experts have a differing views.  If you're between the ages of 50 and 80, have a 20-pack-year smoking history, still smoke, or quit smoking less than 15 years ago, you should get screened. You shouldn't be screened if you haven't smoked in the last 15 years. (A pack-year is calculated by multiplying the number of cigarette packs smoked each day by the number of years an individual has smoked.) Discuss a smoking background with your doctor to see whether you can be screened using these guidelines.

You may have a greater chance of lung cancer for a variety of reasons other than smoking. If you have any of the following signs, your doctor might recommend that you get screened:

  • Worked in industries with chemicals such as radon, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, nickel, silica, or asbestos
  • Previous history of small-cell lung cancer, or cancer of the head or neck
  • Previous radiation treatment to the chest to treat cancer
  • Family history of a parent, brother or sister, or child with lung cancer
  • Personal history of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or pulmonary fibrosis (scarring in the lungs)

How Screening Works

If you want to get a diagnostic procedure, you would almost certainly have low-dose computed tomography (LDCT). It's an X-ray system that creates detailed images of the lungs.

It's a really simple test. There is no requirement for any extra preparation, such as fasting. Simply hold your breath for around 6 seconds as a technician performs a scan. It takes about 10 minutes to complete the process.

Bear in mind that an LDCT will often produce a result that appears to be cancer but isn't. This is alluded to as a false-positive case. To double-check, you may need to take a few more samples.

Diagnostic Tests

If you have lung cancer symptoms, your doctor would most certainly start with a physical examination and a review of your medical history.

If your doctor thinks you have cancer-based on your symptoms or a diagnostic examination, you will require some of the following tests:

Sputum cytology. This test examines the mucus for cancer cells. To acquire a sample, inhale slowly and cough vigorously enough to get the mucus out from the lungs. After that, you'll spit it into a cup.

Imaging tests. They are looking for growths that could indicate lung cancer. Your doctor would be able to determine if the illness has advanced and, if so, where it is located in the body.

The following imaging tests can be helpful in making a diagnosis:

Chest X-ray. It creates images of the lungs using low-dose radiation.

CT (computed tomography). This strong X-ray will reveal the size, shape, and location of cancer. An examination of the chest and abdomen can be performed. If you have the condition, the doctor will check to see whether it has spread to other organs in your body, such as your liver or adrenal glands.

PET (positron emission tomography). It employs a form of radiation that concentrates in cancer cells. The areas are then photographed with a camera. This exam will help your doctor determine whether a growth that appeared on an X-ray is cancer and whether it has spread to other parts of your body.


Your doctor will take cells from your lungs to examine under a microscope for cancer to determine which kind it is. It can be achieved in a couple of different ways:

Needle biopsy or needle aspiration. The doctor numbs your skin and removes a sample of tissue using a needle.

Fine needle aspiration. There are two distinct forms of biopsy. Fine needle aspiration occurs where a thin needle is used.

Core biopsy. A core biopsy is a technique that removes a sample of tissue along with the cells using a much thicker, hollow instrument. A CT scan or X-ray may be used by the doctor to guide the needle to the proper position.

Bronchoscopy. They take a tissue sample and stick it in a thin tube that is inserted into the lungs for this examination.

Thoracentesis. Your doctor uses a needle to draw fluid from the area between the lung and chest wall, which is then screened for cancer cells.

Endoscopic ultrasound. A needle is inserted into a lighted tube called an endoscope during this test.

Open biopsy. You'll need to do this in a medical operation theatre. A surgeon removes tissue from the chest by a cut. While this is going on, you'll be given anaesthesia that will help you to sleep.

Regardless of how the biopsy is performed, the cells removed are submitted to a lab for analysis. A pathologist studies them under a microscope to determine whether all of them are cancerous.

Biomarker monitoring can be performed on the tissue extract from your biopsy by the clinic. This test gives you some knowledge regarding cancer's genetic makeup. This aids the doctor in determining which medications are more efficient.

Your doctor can arrange a treatment plan with you if you are diagnosed with lung cancer. However, ensure that you do have the emotional support you need. Maintain contact with family and friends. They will be a great source of help when you manage and treat the condition. Consider joining a support group where you can talk to people who are going through similar experiences.

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