There are several ways of diagnosing if someone is in the early stages of lung cancer.
A physical examination and history taking: An examination of the person’s body to check for general signs of health (or ill health). This includes checking for signs of disease and unusual lumps, bumps and anything else that seems unusual.
The doctor will also take a history of the person’s health habits, any past illnesses and treatments given for those illnesses.
Laboratory tests: These are medical procedures testing different samples of tissue, blood, urine, and other substances in the body. They also help diagnose disease and assist in the planning, management and monitoring of the disease.
A sputum test is important as it can be evidence for cancer cells in the lungs. The sputum is usually collected over a three day period. This ensures a more accurate diagnosis than that made with a single sputum collection.
Fiberoptic bronchoscopy is an examination which uses a small flexible lighted tube to pass into the nasal canal and then into the appropriate bronchus (airway) down to the cancer. A small piece of the cancer is removed and taken for a biopsy examination so the exact type of cancer can be determined and appropriate treatment given.
Percutaneous needle biopsy is another examination which involves inserting a thin needle into the tumour through the person’s skin and chest wall. This is a useful test for tumours close to the surface of the lung. It is often used in conjunction with a CAT scan which assists in guiding the needle into the tumour.
Excision or surgical removal of the suspected tumour can lead to further diagnosis. Performed through a small incision into the chest, this clinical procedure involves using a small thin video camera inserted into the chest to assist in removing a small block of lung tissue using a mechanical surgical stapling device or laser.
A Mediastinoscopy involves looking into the mid portion of the chest through a small incision made just below the collar line. It is used to take samples from the lymph nodes in the central part of the chest (mediastinum). This test helps evaluate how extensive the tumour is. If the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, the chance of surgically curing the lung cancer is automatically eliminated.
A Mediastinotomy removes samples of mediastinal lymph nodes. This is a complex test, and the patient has to undergo general anaesthesia. Unlike a Mediastinoscopy, this procedure opens up the chest cavity by cutting through the sternum (breastbone) and/or the ribs. It allows the surgeon to reach and test more lymph nodes than he is able to reach through a Mediastinoscopy
A Thoracentesis is performed by using a needle to remove a sample of fluid surrounding the lungs to check for cancer cells.
A Thoracotomy can be useful if surgery is needed to test for malignancy. The chest wall has to be opened so this procedure is performed in hospital as a major operation.
Thoracoscopy is a procedure using a thin, lighted tube connected to a video camera to monitor and view the space between the lungs and the chest wall.
In a bone marrow biopsy a needle is used to remove a sample of bone about 1/16 inch across and 1 inch long (more often than not from the back of your hip bone). The sample is then checked under a microscope for cancer cells. This procedure is performed predominantly to diagnose small cell lung cancer.
Blood tests A complete blood test checks if your blood has the accurate number of different cell types by showing whether you have anaemia or other related problems.
This test is repeated on a regular basis especially if someone is undergoing chemotherapy treatment. Chemotherapy drugs affect the blood-forming cells of the bone marrow and sometimes cause lots of problematic side effects.
Blood chemistry tests spot abnormalities in organs and other parts of the body. If cancer has spread to the liver and bones, it might cause certain chemical abnormalities in the blood and exacerbate any problems already suffered by the patient so it’s important all eventualities are monitored for.