Lung Cancer

Frequently Asked Questions

20. How does a doctor confirm that someone has lung cancer?

To confirm that a person has lung cancer, the doctor must examine fluid or tissue from the lung. This is done through a biopsy -- the removal of a small sample of fluid or tissue for examination under a microscope by a pathologist. A biopsy can show whether a person has cancer. A number of procedures may be used to obtain this tissue.

  • Bronchoscopy -- The doctor puts a bronchoscope -- a thin, lighted tube -- into the mouth or nose and down through the windpipe to look into the breathing passages. Through this tube, the doctor can collect cells or small samples of tissue.
  • Needle Aspiration -- The doctor numbs the chest area and inserts a thin needle into the tumor to remove a sample of tissue.
  • Thoracentesis or thorascopy -- Using a needle, the doctor removes a sample of the fluid that surrounds the lungs to check for cancer cells.
  • Thoracotomy -- Surgery to open the chest is sometimes needed to diagnose lung cancer. This procedure is a major operation performed in a hospital.