Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death worldwide and the third most common cancer in the United States. However, if it is detected early enough, it can be treated.

Experts are constantly looking for new ways to detect lung cancer so that people can receive the treatment they need as quickly as possible and have the best chance of survival.

How is lung cancer diagnosed?

If a doctor suspects that a patient may have lung cancer, there are a number of different tools that they can use, including computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and positron emission tomography (PET) scans.

If these scans indicate that cancer is present, additional testing may be carried out in the form of a biopsy, an ultrasound, mediastinoscopy, thoracoscopy, or wedge resection.

If you need to undergo any diagnostic testing for lung cancer, visit the Moffitt Cancer Center (Tampa, Florida), where medical staff use the latest technologies to detect lung cancer as early as possible.

Biopsies for lung cancer

Biopsies are the most common diagnosis tool for lung cancer, and these are carried out via either a needle biopsy or a bronchoscopy.

A needle biopsy is a non-surgical procedure that involves a surgeon using a syringe to remove tissue from a nodule in the lung. This is usually carried out under sedation rather than a general anesthetic.

A bronchoscopy, on the other hand, is a procedure that involves passing a tube called a bronchoscope through a patient’s mouth or nose, down the windpipe, and then into the lungs where the cancer is suspected. This procedure can be carried out under either sedation or general anesthetic.

Endobronchial ultrasound (EBUS)

An endobronchial ultrasound is similar to a bronchoscopy but uses an ultrasound probe to send sound waves through the cavity of the chest. This allows a surgeon or doctor to look at the lungs on an ultrasound monitor.

Following the ultrasound, they can then take tissue samples from a nodule for further testing.


A mediastinoscopy is a surgical procedure that has to be carried out under general anesthesia. It involves a surgeon making an incision in the neck, which allows an instrument known as a mediastinoscope to be inserted into the lungs.

This type of biopsy of the mediastinal lymph nodes is taken for cancer staging.

Video-assisted thoracoscopy (VAT)

Video-assisted thoracoscopy enables a doctor to see where a nodule is located and the areas surrounding it. This procedure involves a tiny camera being inserted into the airways on a thin tube. Using this tube, a surgeon can then remove tissue for testing.

The tissue can be tested while the patient is still under general anesthetic, so if cancer is detected, the surgeon can immediately start to clear the section around the cancerous module.

Wedge resection

Wedge resection is a type of surgery involving removing a triangular section of tissue. This could be a nodule or a cancerous tumor. This technique is often used to determine whether or not a nodule is cancerous.

A wedge section only removes the smallest possible amount of tissue but is still highly effective at diagnosing cancer.

Image credit: Robina Weermeijer via Unsplash

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