Diagnosis of lung cancer may be made by physical examination, chest X rays, bronchoscopy (see bronchoscope), or percutaneous needle biopsy (insertion of a fine needle through the skin and into the lung to obtain tissue for study). In many cases definitive diagnosis is made after surgical specimens have been evaluated. Evaluation of suspected sites of metastasis may involve CAT scans or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). A special CAT-scanning technique (helical low-dose CAT-scanning) has also been used for initial diagnosis because it can detect small tumors before they have spread.
Lung cancer is staged according to its location, size, cell type, and spread. This staging plus the state of health of the patient are used to determine treatment.
Treatment typically consists of surgical excision of the tumor alone or in combination with either external-beam radiation therapy or chemotherapy using one or more anticancer drugs. Photodynamic therapy is sometimes used if the cancer is still localized. In this therapy a substance that makes cells more sensitive to light is injected into the body. When it has passed out of most of the tissues, but remains in the cancer cells, the cancer is destroyed by a beam of laser light.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.