Lung Cancer Diagnosis

For many people, the first sign that they may have lung cancer is the appearance of a suspicious spot on a chest x-ray or a CT scan. But an image alone is not enough to tell you whether you have cancer and, if so, what type of cancer it is.

Most people who come to us for a lung cancer diagnosis first meet with a surgeon. He or she will work with pathologists, radiologists, and other lung cancer specialists to determine the specific type of lung cancer you have and how advanced it is. These findings help your disease management team develop the most successful treatment plan for you.

The first step is for your doctor to get a tissue sample using one of several biopsy methods. Then a pathologist — a type of doctor who specializes in diagnosing disease —who focuses on lung cancer studies the tissue under a microscope to determine whether you have lung cancer and, if so, what type. He or she will be able to tell this by looking closely at the cancer cells’ shape and other features.

In addition to standard pathology tests, Memorial Sloan Kettering performs molecular testing of tumors in all patients with non-small cell lung cancer. We are one of only a few hospitals in the world to offer this type of personalized medicine. Learn more about personalized medicine at Memorial Sloan Kettering.

Knowing which type of lung cancer you have will help your doctors to stage the tumor accurately and to begin identifying the best treatment approach. Understanding what type of cancer you have is also important because each type responds differently to certain chemotherapy drugs.