Lung Cancer Diagnosis

There are many types of lung cancer, but most belong to one of two types:
  • Small cell lung cancer (SCLC) - Although the cancer cells are small, they spread quickly to form large tumors that then can progress to other parts of the body, including lymph nodes, brain, liver, and bones.
  • Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) - This is the most common type of lung cancer and incorporates several different sub-types: squamous cell, adenocarcinoma, and large cell. These types of lung cancer may also spread quickly to other parts of the body.

Although most lung cancers do not cause symptoms until they have spread, some of the most common early symptoms may be:

  • Cough that does not go away
  • Bloody or reddish colored mucous that is coughed up
  • Shortness of breath or wheezing
  • Chest pain
  • Hoarseness
  • Rapid loss of weight; loss of appetite

Since most people with early lung cancer do not have any symptoms, only about 15% of lung cancers are found in the early stages. These early cases are often found incidentally, when a chest X-ray, CT scan, or other test are being done for another reason.

If the doctors suspect that a patient is at risk for lung cancer, they will most likely discuss their medical history and perform a physical exam. Suspected lung masses are usually first evaluated through a chest X-ray or a CT scan. These tests can provide information regarding the size and location of a lung mass but most often they cannot tell if the abnormality is benign or cancerous. To characterize the lung mass further, the physician may want to order a PET/CT scan. When lung cancer is found, accurate diagnosis and prompt treatment could save the patients life.

Physicians utilize PET/CT scans to characterize solitary pulmonary nodules and other lung masses as benign or malignant.