You may be suffering from lung cancer (LC) without realizing it. It can lay hidden for years. In fact, in many cases, the disease can metastasize (spread outside the site of origin) before symptoms present. Making matters worse, one of the most common symptoms is a persistent, nagging cough. The cough is often dismissed as little more than the sign of a common cold.
Eventually, other symptoms will manifest. You might have difficulty catching your breath after short bouts of activity. You may lose your appetite, experience pain within your chest, and even cough up blood. These are warning signs of lung cancer. If you notice them, make an appointment with your doctor. Below, we’ll describe the various tests your physician can perform to identify the presence of cancerous cells.
A History And Physical Examination
Your doctor will begin by reviewing your medical history. It may provide useful clues, including whether you are genetically predisposed to the disease and if others in your family have developed it. Your physician will also ask about your current lifestyle. He’ll want to know if you are exposed to tobacco smoke, asbestos, or other carcinogens. Next, he’ll conduct a full physical exam. That will help him determine whether you suffer from breathing difficulties, including blockages within your airways.
Chest X-rays And Scans
After he performs an exam, your doctor will take X-rays of your chest. The X-rays will provide a view of your lungs and bring suspect areas to his attention. However, the X-rays alone are not enough for your physician to make a clear diagnosis of LC.
Next, you’ll likely undergo a CT scan as your doctor looks for tumors and signs of metastases. This is usually done because the X-rays do not provide enough information. If there is a possibility that you suffer from small cell lung cancer (as experienced by long-time smokers), he may perform a helical CT scan.
If the CT scans do not provide adequate information, your physician may order a positron emission tomography scan. This will give him a 3-D model of your chest that not only shows your organs and bones, but also metabolic activity and other body functions.
If the positron emission tomography scan is inconclusive, your doctor may perform a bronchoscopy. He’ll slide a bronchoscope down your throat toward your bronchi to identify areas that can be biopsied. If the site that offers an abnormal sample of tissue is difficult to access with the bronchoscope, your physician may perform a needle biopsy. A needle in inserted between your ribs in order to access the site.
If you notice any symptoms of lung cancer, contact your doctor as soon as possible. The earlier it can be diagnosed, the greater likelihood that it can be treated successfully.