After you learn that you have lung cancer, you may need staging tests to help with decisions about treatment. Staging tests can show the stage (extent) of lung cancer, such as whether cancer cells have spread to other parts of the body.
When lung cancer spreads, cancer cells are often found in nearby lymph nodes. Lung cancer cells can spread from the lung to almost any other part of the body, such as the brain, bones, other lung, liver, or adrenal glands.
Staging tests may include...
- CT scan: An x-ray machine linked to a computer takes a series of detailed pictures of your chest, abdomen, brain, or other parts of your body. You’ll receive contrast material by injection into a blood vessel in your arm or hand. For a CT scan of the abdomen, you may receive contrast material by mouth also. The contrast material makes abnormal areas easier to see. The pictures from a CT scan can show the lung tumor’s size. The pictures can also show cancer that has spread to your liver, adrenal glands, brain, or other organs.
- PET scan: Your doctor may use a PET scan to get a better view of the tumor in the lung or to find cancer that has spread. You’ll receive an injection of a small amount of radioactive sugar. A machine makes computerized pictures of the sugar being used by cells in the body. Because cancer cells use sugar faster than normal cells, areas with cancer cells look brighter on the pictures.
- MRI: A strong magnet linked to a computer is used to make detailed pictures of your head or spine. An MRI can show whether cancer has spread to these areas. Sometimes contrast material is used to make abnormal areas show up more clearly on the picture.
- Bone scan: A small amount of a radioactive substance will be injected into a blood vessel. The radioactive substance travels through your bloodstream and collects in the bones. A machine called a scanner detects and measures the radiation. The scanner makes pictures of your bones. Because higher amounts of the radioactive substance collect in areas where cancer is present, the pictures can show cancer that has spread to the bones.
Other tests may be needed. For example, your doctor may remove samples of lymph nodes or other tissues to see whether lung cancer has spread.
Questions you may want to ask your doctor about tests
- What type of lung cancer do I have?
- Has the cancer spread from the lung? If so, to where?
- May I have a copy of test results?