Scans for lung cancer detection

Lung cancer detection begins with scans that allow doctors to see inside the body and find tumors.

  • A CT scan provides a detailed picture of one's lungs and chest.
  • An MRI scan is similar to a CT scan but it uses magnetic fields instead of radiation to create a picture.
  • A PET scan shows how the body's cells act in the presence of sugar. Normal cells take in sugar and use it to make energy. Cancer cells usually take in more sugar than normal cells.

Although scans for lung cancer detection can find tumors, they do not prove you have cancer. They give your doctor an idea of areas that look abnormal and should be tested further.

Biopsies for lung cancer detection

A biopsy is the removal of a tissue sample from a tumor to determine if it is cancer.

Biopsies for lung cancer detection are done in different ways,depending on the location and the size of the tumor.

  • A bronchoscopy allows a pulmonologist to see the inside of one's lungs and airways. Bronchoscopy with the super Dimension inReachTM System can help doctors see deeper into the lungs than regular bronchoscopy.
  • During a CT guided fine needle aspiration the radiologist inserts a needle into the chest wall and uses the needle to take a sample of the tissue. This is done with the guidance of a CT scan in order to accurately get a tissue sample from the tumor.
  • A mediastinoscopy is a procedure in which a small incision is made in the neck. A mediastinoscope (a thin tube with a light at the end) is inserted through the opening to take a biopsy. The tissue sample is then examined under a microscope.
  • During a video-assisted thoracoscopy (VATS) a surgeon places a scope (a tube with a tiny camera on the end) through a small incision in the chest in order to remove a sample of lung tissue.VATS is less invasive than traditional lung surgery. This means you may recover faster and begin treatment sooner.
  • Endobronchial ultrasound (EBUS) allows a doctor to see inside the lungs and airways. While looking at a live ultrasound image,the doctor can pass a scope through the mouth or nose and windpipe to precisely enter the lungs and take a biopsy.

Source: American Cancer Society, All About Lung Cancer – Non-small Cell, All About Lung Cancer – Small Cell; Virginia Piper Cancer Institute
Reviewed By: Paula Colwell, RN, manager, Virginia Piper Cancer Institute Lung Cancer Program
First Published: 09/11/2009
Last Reviewed: 09/11/2009

Lung Cancer Screening Program

Oncologists review lung cancer screening results

We use the most advanced technology to find even the smallest lung abnormalities. Doctors review the scan results and, if needed, contact you with recommendations.

Lung cancer care locations