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Diagnosing lung cancer

Your lung cancer team will use tests and tools designed for diagnosing lung cancer, evaluating the disease and developing your individualized treatment plan. Throughout your treatment, we’ll use imaging and laboratory tests to track the size of the tumor(s), monitor your response to treatment, and modify your plan when needed.

Some evaluations designed for diagnosing lung cancer include:


A chest X-ray uses high-energy electromagnetic radiation to provide images of the lungs and surrounding tissues. Chest X-rays may reveal abnormalities such as shaded areas, which may be evaluated further to determine whether they’re tumors.

Lab tests

Advanced genomic testing: Genomic testing examines a tumor on a genetic level to look for the DNA alterations that are driving the cancer’s growth. By identifying the mutations that occur in a cancer cell’s genome, we can better understand what caused the tumor and tailor treatment based on these findings.

Nutrition panel: With this test, we evaluate patients for deficiency of nutrients, such as vitamin D and iron. The test helps us identify the nutrients patients need replaced or boosted to support their quality of life. Learn more about our nutrition therapy program.

PET/CT scan

A CT scan creates a 3D picture of the lungs, but it may miss small tumors if part of the lung has collapsed, as is sometimes the case. A PET scan goes beyond anatomy to show what is happening at a cellular level in the tissues of the lung.

Combining PET/CT technology enables our doctors to know where the healthy lung tissue ends and the tumor begins. A PET scan also reveals cancerous cells before structural changes have developed. This approach helps pinpoint tumors, so that we may properly diagnose and stage the disease, and focus treatment on the cancerous tissues.

Endobronchial ultrasound (EBUS)

EBUS is a less invasive bronchoscopic procedure used to evaluate and sample cancerous cells in the chest. In most cases, EBUS is performed as an alternative to a mediastinoscopy, a surgical procedure used to collect samples in the chest while the patient is under general anesthesia.

Four-day lung nodule diagnosis

Our lung cancer care teams at CTCA Chicago and CTCA Tulsa developed a diagnostic program to get you your results faster, in as few as four days after your initial consultation.

CT scan

A CT scan reveals the anatomy of the lungs and surrounding tissues, which our cancer doctors use to diagnose and monitor tumor growth. If neurological symptoms have developed, a CT scan of the brain may be performed to check for metastases.

CT angiogram

If you are experiencing shortness of breath, your radiologist may perform a CT angiogram to check for blood clots or other blockages in the lungs.


During a lung biopsy procedure, your doctor removes a small piece of tissue or fluid from the chest so it can be examined under a microscope to check for cancer cells.

Autofluorescence bronchoscopy

This technology allows our physicians to identify cancerous cells in the bronchial tubes that may not be visible under white light examination. The doctor can then remove a small sample of abnormal tissue for further analysis.

A navigational bronchoscopy combines advanced imaging techniques with electromagnetic navigation to help find and treat cancer in the lungs. This procedure allows doctors to reach tumors by advancing the scope into smaller bronchi or bronchi that are blocked by a tumor.

Robotic bronchoscopy

For patients who are candidates for lung cancer screening, or for those for whom an area of concern cannot be reached via traditional, navigational bronchoscopy, robotic bronchoscopy may be an option. Robotic bronchoscopy may help certain patients avoid a transthoracic needle aspiration, which may increase the risk of complications. Robotic bronchoscopy is also designed to increase the chance of an accurate diagnosis.

Next topic: How is lung cancer treated?