LUNG Cancer

Doctors can detect lung cancer through a number of different tests. The type of information he or she is looking for will determine the test that your doctor prescribes.

>> The first step is usually a series of chest X-rays. In medicine, X-rays are beams of electromagnetic radiation used to "see through" the human body. These rays fall on a photographic plate placed behind or under you. When the photograph is exposed, it gives an image of the internal structure of your bones and organs. Along with CAT scans and MRIs, X-rays reveal information about the size, shape, and location of a tumor. They do not, however, tell you whether a tumor is cancerous.

>> CAT (computer-assisted tomography) scans and MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging) are more sophisticated tests that use computerized pictures to develop a three-dimensional image of the tumor. Because CAT scans and MRIs can show the lungs, lymph nodes, or other parts of the body with much greater precision than X-rays, they can also pinpoint whether the cancer has spread from the lung to other parts of the chest or body.

A new study released on July 10, 1999 shows evidence that smokers and former smokers can benefit from routine CAT scans of the their lungs. The scans use a new technique that is far more sensitive than conventional x-rays, and can detect small tumors when they are small enough to be cured. Not all medical centers can perform the new test. Some centers which currently can perform the procedure include: Cornell and New York University, The Mayo Clinic in Rochester Minn. , and The H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute in Tampa, Fla. Insurance companies and health maintenence organizations may not yet pay for the test

>> Sputum cytology is the microscopic examination of the cells in the thick fluid a patient coughs up from the lungs or breathing tubes. This procedure can discover lung cancers not found on X-rays. However, sputum cytology does not show where tumors are located, so follow-up tests are usually necessary.

>> If you have been diagnosed with lung cancer, you may be asked to undergo a nuclear medicine scan using a low-level radioactivity (such as a CAT scan), to see whether the lung cancer has spread. A bone scan, for example, can show abnormalities in your bones, and will tell you whether this is caused by some other problem (like arthritis) or by the cancer.

>> A biopsy is usually ordered when a tumor is suspected to be cancerous. For this test, tissue is removed from the tumor either by inserting a long needle into the lung, or by operating to remove part or all of the tumor. Examination of the tissue under a microscope will reveal whether the tumor cells are cancerous and, if so, what type of cancer they are. Through biopsies, doctors can learn very precisely the type of lung cancer involved, so these tests are extremely important in diagnosing cancer and evaluating the best treatment.

If your doctor recommends a biopsy, you might want to ask the following questions to make yourself more comfortable with the procedure:

* What kind of biopsy is being performed? Why have you chosen this one?
* Will I be awake for the procedure? Will I feel anything?
* How long will the biopsy take? How soon will I get the results?
* Who will talk to me about treatment, if you find cancer?