Lung Cancer Detection
How lung cancer is detected
Chest x-ray: This test is used look for any spot on the lungs. It is a plain x-ray of your chest. If the x-ray is normal, you most likely do not have lung cancer. If anything looks suspicious, more tests will follow.
CT scan (computed tomography): A CT scan is a special kind of x-ray. Instead of taking just one picture, the CT scanner takes many pictures as it moves around you. A computer then combines these pictures into an image of a slice of your body. Often after the first set of pictures is taken you will get an injection of a "dye" that helps to outline structures in your body. Then a second set of pictures is taken. The CT scan will give more precise information about the size, shape, and place of a tumor. It can also help find enlarged lymph nodes that might contain cancer. CT scans are also used to find tumors in other organs that might be affected by the spread of lung cancer.
MRI scan (magnetic resonance imaging): MRI scans use radio waves and strong magnets instead of x-rays. MRI scans take longer than x-rays — often up to an hour. MRI scans are useful in finding lung cancer that has spread the brain or spinal cord.
PET scan (positron emission tomography): PET uses a form of sugar that contains a radioactive atom. Cancer cells in the body absorb large amounts of the sugar. A special camera can then detect the radioactivity. This test can show whether the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes. It is also helpful in telling whether a spot on your chest x-ray is cancer. PET scans are also useful to detect cancer that has spread. Newer machines combine a CT and a PET scan to even better pinpoint the tumor.
Bone scans: For a bone scan a small amount of radioactive substance is injected into a vein. This substance builds up in areas of bone that may be abnormal because of cancer. Bone scans are used when other tests or symptoms suggest that the cancer has spread to the bones.
Sputum cytology: A sample of phlegm (spit) is looked at under a microscope to see if cancer cells are present.
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