How do I find out if I have lung cancer?

Usually there are no warning signs of early lung cancer. By the time most people with lung cancer have symptoms, the cancer has become more serious.

Symptoms of lung cancer may include:

  • A cough that doesn’t go away or gets worse
  • Breathing trouble, like shortness of breath
  • Coughing up blood
  • Chest pain
  • Hoarseness or wheezing
  • Pneumonia that doesn’t go away or that goes away and comes back

In addition, you may feel very tired, have a loss of appetite, or unexplained weight loss. If you have symptoms of lung cancer, it’s important to talk to your doctor. The doctor will ask about your health history, smoking history, and exposure to harmful substances. He or she will also do a physical exam and may suggest some tests.

Common tests for diagnosis of lung cancer include:

  • Chest x-rays. Chest x-rays allow doctors to “see” abnormal growths in the lungs.
  • Computerized tomography scans (CT scans). CT scans are more powerful than standard x-rays. The images can show subtle signs of cancer that don’t show up on x-rays. This can increase the chances of finding the cancer before it spreads further.
  • Sputum cytology. A sample of mucus that you cough up is studied to see if it has cancer cells in it.
  • Bronchoscopy. Doctors pass a special tube called a bronchoscope through the nose or mouth and down into the lungs. They can see into the lungs and remove small bits of tissue to test.
  • Fine-needle aspiration. Doctors pass a needle through the chest wall into the lung to remove a small amount of tissue or fluid.
  • Thoracotomy (thohr-uh-KOT-oh-mee). Doctors cut open the chest and remove tissue from the lungs.

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