If your doctor suspects that you have lung cancer, he or she will perform a biopsy to remove tissue from the possibly cancerous growth in your chest. It’s the only way to tell whether you have lung cancer, and if so, what type of lung cancer.

In a lung biopsy, a pathologist examines the tissue removed from the suspicious growth under a microscope. He or she is able to use this information to help make a diagnosis of non-small cell or small cell lung cancer.

There are a few ways that your doctor can do a biopsy. The most common is called a bronchoscopy. Other methods your doctor might use to get a biopsy include:

  • Needle biopsy
  • Endoscopic ultrasound
  • Surgery

Transthoracic Needle Biopsy

If the suspicious growth cannot be reached by a bronchoscopy, your physician may recommend a needle biopsy through the chest wall. In this procedure, also called transthoracic needle biopsy, you’ll receive anesthesia and a needle will be inserted through the skin directly into the suspicious spot to remove a small sample of tissue for analysis. Physicians called interventional radiologists, who use x-rays or a CT scanner to guide the needle, perform most needle biopsies.

Other Methods for Biopsy

Occasionally, a biopsy is performed using a device with a light attached to it called an endoscope that’s placed through the mouth into the esophagus, the tube that leads from the mouth to the stomach. This approach is called endoscopic ultrasound. At other times, because of the location or size of the suspicious mass, a surgical operation may be necessary to perform the biopsy.