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Diagnosing Lung Cancer

At Dignity Health, we combine the latest diagnostic technology with the expertise of our physicians. Our goal is a precise and accurate diagnosis, so we can plan the most effective course of treatment. 

Your doctor will begin the diagnosis by conducting a thorough physical exam and asking you about your symptoms and medical history. Be sure to be honest about what you are experiencing—your report of symptoms will help your doctor make the diagnosis.

Your doctor will order further testing if the physical exam reveals certain abnormalities, including:

  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Weak breathing
  • Abnormal breath sounds
  • Droopy eyelids or unequal pupils
  • Expanded veins in your arms, chest or neck
  • Facial swelling

Diagnostic Tests For Lung Cancer

Diagnostic tests your doctor may order include:

Imaging Scans

Your doctor will use various imaging scans in order to get a clear picture of your lungs. Imaging scans include:

  • Chest X-ray is often the first test we perform.
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan may follow a chest X-ray. A CT scan creates 3-D images of your lungs.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan uses powerful magnetic waves to create a detailed picture of your lungs.
  • Positron emission tomography (PET) scan uses a small amount of radioactive substance to detect tumors.

Sputum Cytology

If the imaging scans detected an abnormality, your doctor will need to confirm the diagnosis by analyzing a tissue sample. During this procedure, you cough forcefully into a container. We analyze the sputum (mucous) under a microscope.

SuperDimension Bronchoscopy

This GPS-like navigation system allows the surgeon to steer a small catheter through the mouth, down the trachea and far into the lung to locate and biopsy suspicious lesions without open surgery. Learn more about superDimension bronchoscopy.

Endobronchial Ultrasound-Guided Biopsy (EBUS)

Endobronchial ultrasound-guided biopsy (EBUS) enables the surgeon to use a bronchoscope inserted through the mouth to biopsy lesions and lymph nodes surrounding the airway. Improved images allow the physician to accurately biopsy difficult to reach lymph nodes.


In this minimally invasive diagnostic technique, we insert a thin scope through a small incision in the neck to biopsy lesions and lymph nodes in the space between the lungs (mediastinum).

Video-Assisted Thoracic Surgery (VATS)

This new procedure allows the doctor to insert a small camera and surgical tools through one to two cm. openings in the chest to complete a wedge biopsy for the diagnosis of lung cancer and other lung diseases.

Blood Tests And Pulmonary Function Tests

Your doctor may order blood tests to check for abnormalities and a pulmonary function test to evaluate your lung function.