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Home > Lung Diseases > Lung Cancer > Diagnosing

Diagnosing Lung Cancer

Physical Exam

A physician office visit is often the first step in diagnosing lung cancer. The physical exam provides valuable information to the doctor.

Is important to remember that the information you provide to the doctor is critical in evaluating lung cancer. Make sure your doctor is aware of any risk factors (see Risk Factors for Lung Cancer) that you might have regarding lung cancer. Additionally, tell your doctor if you are having any of the signs or symptoms of lung cancer (see Signs and Symptoms).



Tests that will assist your doctor in making an accurate diagnosis of lung cancer are:

  • Chest X-ray
  • Computed Tomography (CT Scan)
  • Bronchoscopy: a small scope is passed into the lungs, via the mouth or nose, for direct observation of tumor and to obtain a biopsy.
  • Pulmonary function testing
  • Needle aspiration: A needle is inserted through the chest into the tumor to remove a sample of tissue.
  • Thoracentesis: using a needle, the doctor removes a sample of the fluid that surrounds the lungs to check for cancer cells.
  • Thoracotomy: a surgery to open the chest is sometimes needed to diagnose lung cancer. This procedure is major surgery.
  • Positron-Emission Tomography (PET scan): this test is helpful in detecting lung cancer and identifying the spread of cancer to other organs.



Remember to take these questions with you when you go to the doctor. To make it easy, we’ve made
a PDF of these questions

for you to print out.


Questions to Ask Your Doctor

1. What type of lung cancer do I have?

2. Has the cancer spread?

3. What stage is my cancer and what does that mean?

4. What treatment choices do I have?

5. What treatment do you recommend, and why?

6.What are the goals of my treatment?

7.What can I do to prepare for my treatment?

8. What are the side effects and/or complications of the treatment?

9. How long will the treatments last?

10. What are my chances of recovery? Or—What is your opinion of my survival rate considering my cancer?

11. What other options are available— second opinions, cancer centers, clinical trials, and/or specialists?


Second Opinion

Shortly after the diagnosis, decisions are made regarding the right treatment for your lung cancer.  The right diagnosis is crucial to the treatment decisions.

Second opinions can confirm or suggest changes to your doctor’s proposed treatment plan. If you have questions about your diagnosis, a second opinion may offer you comfort and confidence that you have explored all of your options.

Getting a second opinion is done frequently and your doctor may be able to recommend another doctor or cancer center. Most often either the patient or the physician can request the second opinion.

There are cancer centers that will evaluate your tissue sample (laboratory sample that determines the type of cancer you have) rather than having you travel to the center.  These samples will be sent to the center and they will identify the cell type (treatment is based upon cell type).

A word of caution, make sure that the sample is sent in a way that a tracking number is issued when the sample is shipped. You do not want your sample to be lost en route.

Second Opinion Resources

The HR Bloch Foundation founded by Richard R. Bloch, co-founder of HR Block Inc. and lung cancer survivor, has a broad list of second opinion resources: hospitals, specialty centers, laboratories and doctors. Additionally, this site has inspirational and supportive resources for cancer patients and their families, friends, and caregivers.

Cancer Centers Program, supported by the National Cancer Institute, has more than 50 facilities that are dedicated as Comprehensive Cancer Centers. These institutions, are characterized by scientific excellence and capability. They are dedicated to cancer research and are capable of providing care based upon current cancer research.



2024 American Association for Respiratory Care