How is lung cancer diagnosed and managed?

Usually, concern that a patient may have lung cancer starts as an abnormal finding on a chest imaging study (chest X-ray or CT scan) or when the disease is advanced enough to cause symptoms, such as coughing, shortness of breath, chest pain, fatigue and/or weight loss.

Diagnosis requires a biopsy, or the removal of cells or tissues from the suspicious mass. Biopsies can be performed through a camera fed through the breathing tubes (called bronchoscopy) or from a needle inserted through the skin into the lung tumor. If these approaches are not successful, surgery may be required for an adequate diagnosis. The biopsy is important in determining whether or not it is cancer, and to determine which type of lung cancer.

Clinical trials

For some patients, participating in a clinical trial may be a treatment choice. Clinical trials are done to find out if new cancer treatments are safe and effective, or to see if they are better than the standard treatment. Many of today’s standard treatments for cancer are based on earlier clinical trials. Patients who take part in a clinical trial may receive the standard treatment or be among the first to receive a prospective new treatment.

Patients who take part in clinical trials also help improve the way cancer will be treated in the future. Even when clinical trials do not lead to effective new treatments, they often answer important questions and move medical knowledge forward.

Lung cancer screening

Lung cancer screening refers to testing a healthy individual at high risk for developing lung cancer who has no symptoms of lung cancer to find lung cancer at a stage that it can be better treated. Low-dose chest CT based screening has been found to reduce the number of people who die from lung cancer with acceptable risks when performed in a high quality setting. At Cleveland Clinic, we have a comprehensive lung cancer screening program for those individuals at high risk of developing lung cancer (aged 55 to 77, 30+ pack-years of smoking, smoked within the past 15 years).

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 07/10/2019.


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