How Is Lung Cancer Diagnosed?

At a patient’s first visit to BMC, he or she will receive highly coordinated, multidisciplinary care that is managed by a thoracic surgeon, a physician who specializes in treating conditions of the lungs, chest wall, and diaphragm.

The patient’s care team will work together to determine a diagnosis.

In collaboration with other specialists, the patient’s physician will likely order a number of diagnostic tests and review the results at a weekly multidisciplinary Thoracic Tumor Board meeting. This interdepartmental review process guides the recommendations for treatment. In consultation with the patient and his or her primary care physician, the BMC care team will plan the best course of treatment based on the type and extent of the patient’s cancer and his or her overall health.

For suspected or confirmed diagnoses of lung cancer, the Cancer Care Center’s physicians will use a variety of diagnostic procedures to stage the disease to determine its severity and spread. The patient’s doctor may request several of the following tests and diagnostic procedures:

Stages of Lung Cancer

Staging is the process of determining how extensive the cancer is. It is an important part of diagnosis because it is used to determine the most appropriate treatment options for patients. For patients diagnosed with lung cancer, a multidisciplinary care team will use these diagnostic procedures to stage the disease and to determine its severity and spread. The stage indicates the location and spread of the cancer.

Stage I: Cancer is present in the lung tissue but not the lymph nodes
Stage II: Cancer is present in the lymph nodes and the chest wall
Stage IIIA: Cancer is present in the lymph nodes within the center of the chest
Stage IIIB: Cancer is present in local areas such as the heart, blood vessels, esophagus, trachea, or lymph nodes of the collarbone or pleura (tissue that surrounds the lungs)
Stage IV: Cancer has spread to other parts of the body, such as the liver, brain, or bones

Pulmonary Metastasis

When a cancerous tumor that originates in a body part other than the lung spreads to the lung, it is called pulmonary metastasis. These metastases—also called secondary malignancies—are common and occur frequently with cancers of the kidney, bone, skin, breast, and colon, among others. Because the lungs are central to many of the body's systems, and blood and lymphatic fluid are pumped through the lungs, tumor fragments and particles can be transferred to the area. It is estimated that pulmonary metastases are present in up to half of advanced cancers. These tumors may occur as a single metastasis or many may be present.

Symptoms of Pulmonary Metastasis

  • Cough, or coughing up blood
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pain in the chest or rib cage
  • Weight loss with unknown cause
  • Weakness or fatigue

How Are Pulmonary Metastases Diagnosed?

Pulmonary metastases are usually detected via one of the following tests:


Treating Pulmonary Metastases

Although lung metastasis can be a discouraging diagnosis to receive, the specialists at BMC are often able to improve survival and a patient’s comfort level via resection or removal. When the lungs are the only site of spread and the number of tumor nodules is small, cure is still possible in many instances.

It is important to preserve as much of the lung as possible, while removing any growths—and BMC’s skilled surgeons are able to do just that.