Tests and diagnosis of lung cancer

Diagnosis of lung cancer

First visit your family doctor (GP) if you are worried about any symptoms of lung cancer. If your doctor has concerns about you, he or she will refer you for a chest x-ray.

An X-ray of your chest can give your doctor a good idea if there is anything abnormal about your lungs and help them decide whether or not you need to be referred to a rapid access lung clinic.

There are eight rapid access lung clinics in Ireland:

  • St. James' Hospital
  • Beaumont Hospital
  • St. Vincents' Hospital
  • Mater Misericordiae University Hospital 
  • University Hospital Waterford
  • Cork University Hospital
  • University Hospital Limerick
  • University Hospital Galway

There you will see a specialist who may arrange more tests. 

Tests for lung cancer

You may need some of the following tests:

Breathing tests (lung function tests): These tests can check how well your lungs work.

Special tests

Bronchoscopy: This test uses a small tube with a camera at one end. It is passed down your airway through either your nose or your mouth. Your doctor then passes the tube right down through your airways and into your lungs. Here photos and samples from the lung tissue can be taken.

Endobronchial ultrasound (EBUS): An EBUS is a special type of bronchoscopy that uses an ultrasound scan to take pictures inside and outside the lungs.

Lung biopsy: During a bronchoscopy, EBUS or CT scan, your doctor can take small amounts of tissue samples from your lung. These are called biopsies. Biopsies are sent to a laboratory and looked at under a microscope.

Mediastinoscopy: In this test your doctor looks into the central part of your chest at the lymph glands. This is to check if the disease has spread. It uses a small tube with a camera like in a bronchoscopy. Your doctor will first make a small cut at the base of your neck and put the tube in. Samples (biopsies) of this tissue can also be taken.

Other tests

  • CT scan
  • PET scan
  • MRI scan
  • Ultrasound
  • Isotope bone scan
  • Blood tests

Learn more about the above tests

Staging of lung cancer

The stage of cancer describes the size of your cancer and whether it has spread from its original area to other areas in the body. Knowing the stage of your cancer will help your doctor to decide on the best treatment for your cancer.

Your doctor will stage your lung cancer using the TNM staging system. TNM refers to the size of the tumour (T), whether it has spread to your lymph nodes (N) and whether it has spread to other parts of your body as metastases (M). It is a complex system but it can be roughly described as the following:

Stage 1: The cancer is small and in one lung only.

Stage 2 or 3: The cancer is larger; it may have grown into surrounding tissue or nearby lymph nodes.

Stage 4: The cancer has spread to other parts of your body. This can also be called advanced cancer.

Next: Read more about treatment options for lung cancer.

Date Last Reviewed: 
Tuesday, December 11, 2018