How Is Lung Cancer Diagnosed?

How lung cancer is diagnosed differs from person to person. Your medical team chooses tests based on a number of factors:

  • Your medical history
  • Your symptoms
  • Findings from your physical exam

Imaging Tests

Your doctor might order imaging tests that may help find lung cancer. Imaging tests make pictures of the inside of your body. These pictures help doctors to find lung cancer, to see if it has spread, to see if treatment is working or to find a cancer that has come back after treatment. These tests include:


To see if something suspicious is actually lung cancer, the doctor must study tissue or fluid from or around the lung. Many different procedures allow doctors to remove cells from the body and look at them under a microscope to determine if they are cancer. These tests include:

Many researchers are working to develop tests that can make a difference in early lung cancer screening and survival.

If you think you are at risk for lung cancer or if you have any symptoms, talk to your doctor about tests to see if you have lung cancer.

Screening for Lung Cancer

Screening is looking for cancer before you have any symptoms, which can help find cancer at an early stage when it may be easier to treat. Screening may provide new hope for early detection and treatment of lung cancer. Learn more about lung cancer screening and take our quiz to see if you are eligible for screening.


Staging means finding out if and how much the lung cancer has spread and helps shape your recommended treatment plan. Staging. This is important because your treatment plan and the general outlook for your recovery depend upon the stage of your lung cancer. Learn more about lung cancer staging.

Biomarker Testing

Ask your doctor if your lung cancer tumor should be tested for certain DNA changes. These tests—sometimes referred to as molecular, biomarker or genomic testing—look for changes (mutations) in the tumor's DNA and evaluate levels of specific proteins present in the tumor. When doctors have this information, they may suggest treatment that targets the mutation in the cells. Learn more about biomarker testing.

Reviewed and approved by the American Lung Association Scientific and Medical Editorial Review Panel. Last reviewed November 19, 2018.

Page last updated: July 21, 2021

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