How to diagnose Lung Cancer?

At Pulmonary Associates of Brandon, our first step in lung cancer diagnosis is to understand your symptoms and medical history. One or more of a series of tests may be conducted to diagnose and determine the stage of your lung cancer.

  • Imaging tests can help your doctor locate the tumors and the areas to which the cancer has spread.

  • Sputum cytology checks any mucus you cough up for the presence of lung cancer cells.

  • Biopsy (tissue sample) can be performed using bronchoscopy (a lighted tube that's passed down your throat and into your lungs), mediastinoscopy (an incision is made at the base of your neck and surgical tools are inserted behind your breastbone to take tissue samples from lymph nodes), and needle biopsy (X-ray or CT images aid a pulmonologist in guiding a needle through your chest wall to collect cells from your growth or fluid in your lungs).

Once your pulmonary specialist has compiled information on you, your symptoms and your cancer, he will be able to determine your cancer’s stage of progression and create an appropriate treatment plan.

The stages of Lung Cancer:

  • Occult stage: The cancer is still hidden. Cancer cells may exist in lung fluid or sputum, but your pulmonary specialist is unable to locate the cancer within your lungs.

  • Stage 0: Cancer cells are just in the lining of your airways.

  • Stage I: A small tumor (smaller than two inches) is present in a single lung and has not spread to lymph nodes.

  • Stage II: A large tumor (larger than two inches) is present in a single lung, or the cancer may have spread to nearby lymph nodes.

  • Stage III: A large tumor in one lung and the presence of cancer in lymph nodes or nearby structures.

  • Stage IV: Cancer has spread to both lungs, fluid around the lungs, or to other parts of the body.

How do you treat Lung Cancer?

Your lung cancer treatment plan should take into consideration your health, medical history, family history, the type of lung cancer, the stage of your lung cancer, and of course personal preferences. Treatment options include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy or targeted drug therapy in combination or isolation. Our pulmonary specialists have extensive experience diagnosing and treating cancer, and can explain the treatment options in detail if desired.

At times, patients may choose not to undergo treatment if the side effects outweigh potential benefits. In such situations, you can work with your pulmonologist to come up with a palliative care plan to mitigate the painful or limiting symptoms of your cancer.

surgical options

Non-small cell lung cancer and lung carcinoid tumors are typically treated with surgery. Your surgeon will attempt to remove the cancer, and may remove your lymph nodes in order to check them for signs of cancer. There are multiple types of surgeries possible.

  • Lobectomy: An entire lobe of one lung is removed.
  • Pneumonectomy: An entire lung is actually removed.
  • Wedge resection: A small section of lung that contains the tumor and a margin of healthy tissue is removed.
  • Segmental resection: Removal of a larger portion of lung.


Chemotherapy drugs target and kill cancer cells and may be given before surgery to shrink the size of your tumor, or after surgery to eliminate remaining mutated cells. This treatment option is also common for small cell lung cancers.

targeted drug therapy

A newer form of cancer treatment available, targeted therapy drugs work by targeting specific abnormalities within cancer cells and are often used in combination with chemotherapy drugs. Ask your doctor which works best for you.

radiation therapy

High-powered energy beams from sources such as X-rays target and kill cancer cells. This approach is commonly used to treat small cell lung cancers, and to kill cancer cells that remain after surgery. Different types of radiation treatment are available.

clinical trials

Clinical trials represent the latest innovations in experimental cancer care. However, these drugs are not yet approved and their impacts typically unknown. Clinical trials are a viable treatment option if lung cancer treatments aren't working.