Lung cancer

Diagnosing lung cancer

If your doctor thinks you might have lung cancer, you’ll be referred to a special clinic at the hospital called the rapid access clinic or urgent cancer clinic. If you live in England, you should see a specialist within two weeks of referral.

At your first appointment you’ll usually see a doctor who specialises in lung diseases. The doctor will ask you about your symptoms and medical history. They might also examine you. You can help by bringing a list of any medicines you’re taking.

The doctor will explain the results of any tests you’ve had, and will tell you what further tests you need. These might include:

  • a CT scan: this uses a special X-ray machine to produce a detailed image of the inside of your body
  • a biopsy: this is when a sample of tissue is taken from the tumour
  • a bronchoscopy: this is when your doctor uses a thin, flexible telescope, called a bronchoscope, to look inside your lungs. The bronchoscope is passed through your nose or mouth and down your windpipe. If the tumour is visible, your doctor can take a sample
  • an endobronchial ultrasound (EBUS): this is similar to a bronchoscopy. It uses a thin, flexible tube like a bronchoscope, which has an ultrasound scanner in the tip. This is passed into the windpipe through the mouth. It allows the doctor to scan and take tissues samples of lymph nodes in your chest
  • PET-CT scan: this is a painless procedure where you’re injected with a slightly radioactive substance which can be detected by a scanner to show if the cancer has spread to other areas of your body

These tests will help your doctor find out where the cancer is in your body and what stage it’s at – this means how big it is and how much it has spread.

Next, you’ll see your specialist doctor or nurse to discuss your test results and treatment options. You’ll be offered the types of treatment best for you. You might want to talk to your family or a doctor you know well before making a decision about your treatment.

If you have more questions, or just want to talk to someone, you can call our helpline on 03000 030 555.

The multidisciplinary team

The doctor or nurse you see at your first appointment is part of a multidisciplinary team. This is a group of health care professionals who specialise in diagnosing and treating lung cancer.

An important member of the team is your lung cancer clinical nurse specialist. They are there to support you through your diagnosis, treatment and follow-up. You can contact them between your scheduled hospital visits.

The team also includes oncologists (cancer specialists), radiologists (specialists in radiology which is used to diagnose and treat cancer) and surgeons. They meet every week to discuss your test results and plan your care.

Next: Treatment of lung cancer >

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Last medically reviewed: February 2017. Due for review: February 2020

This information uses the best available medical evidence and was produced with the support of people living with lung conditions. Find out how we produce our information. If you’d like to see our references get in touch.