New Lung Cancer Diagnosis - What to Expect

Avoid confusion with a new diagnosis of lung cancer by organizing the process into 3 simple steps:

  1. Diagnosis
  2. Stage
  3. Treatment

Read the full video transcript below:

Patients and families dealing with a new diagnosis of lung cancer can organize their thoughts by distilling the entire process down into three simple steps. Diagnosis, staging, and treatment. 

Most patients will present to their doctor with weight loss or cough. These symptoms will prompt a physical exam, which is usually followed by a chest x-ray. Suspicious findings on a chest X-ray will eventually lead to a biopsy. 

A biopsy is really the only way to establish a true diagnosis of lung cancer because a piece of the tissue is examined under a microscope. More widespread use of screening CAT scans of the chest in high-risk patients has led to earlier diagnosis of lung cancer. 

After an established diagnosis, the next step is staging. If it's not been done already, then a CT of the chest and a PET CT are usually done. These scans provide helpful information not only about the size and the location, but also the number of lesions and whether or not there are any lymph nodes or other distant organs involved with cancer. MRI of the brain is often done to evaluate whether or not the cancer has spread to the brain.

In addition to scans, some patients will actually have lymph nodes in the chest removed to determine what is the most appropriate treatment. Once this stage has been well established, we can move on to treatment decisions. Surgery is usually the treatment of choice for patients with early-stage lung cancer as long as they are medically fit to undergo surgery. 

For early stage lung cancer patients who cannot undergo surgery, radiation is a good option. Radiation is also the treatment of choice for more advanced stages of lung cancer where the tumor cannot be removed surgically. Chemotherapy and immunotherapy are also the backbone of metastatic lung cancer. 

This is not medical advice. Talk to your doctor before making medical decisions.