Lung Cancer Detection and Diagnosis

Cancers that begin in the lungs are divided into two major types, non-small cell lung cancer and small cell lung cancer, depending on how the cells look under the microscope. Each type of lung cancer grows and spreads in different ways and is treated differently.

Lung Cancer Screening Program

Aurora BayCare Medical Center now offers lung cancer screenings for only $50.

The National Lung Screening Trial published findings in November 2010 showing CT scans to be more effective than x-rays at detecting early stages of lung cancer, and the International Early Lung Cancer Action Program (I-ELCAP) -  which Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center, under the leadership of Dave Olsen, MD, participated in – showed CT scans can detect Stage I lung cancer effectively.  Patients diagnosed with Stage I lung cancer have an expected 88% 10-year survival rate.

Based on the results from these studies, Aurora is now using low-dose chest computed tomography (CT) to test for the disease – even when no symptoms, clinical signs or history of the disease exist.

Click to select next video in the series.
In this set of videos, Dhimant R. Patel MD, discusses lung cancer detection


Dr. Dhimant R. Patel, is an oncologist at Aurora BayCare Medical Center in Green Bay, Wisconsin. In the video series to the right, Dr. Patel talks more about why Aurora BayCare’s lung cancer screening program is using CT scans based on the new guidelines. In the other videos in the playlist, Dr. Patel discusses their new multidisciplinary lung nodule clinic, new technologies being used at Aurora to diagnose and treat lung cancer, survival rates, smoking cessation programs and the disease’s overall outlook.

Who should be screened?

Qualification for the screening is based on nationally established guidelines and includes individuals who:

  • Are ages 55 to 74 and have smoked one pack a day for 30 years (or the equivalent) or
  • Are ages 50 to 74 and have smoked one pack a day for 20 years (or the equivalent) and have one additional risk factors* that raises their risk

*Risks include exposure to high levels or pollution, radiation or asbestos; being a current or past smoker; and having a family history of lung cancer.

After your scan, you will receive a letter in the mail within seven days with your results. This letter will include the scan findings, as well as follow-up recommendations from one of our cancer care specialists.

Benefits of Screening:

  • Promotes early detection of lung cancer
  • Improve chances for survival
  • Encourages better risk-factor management


Tests and procedures that examine your lungs are used to detect and diagnose lung cancer. A biopsy (the removal of a small sample of tissue for examination under a microscope by a pathologist) is collected to confirm the presence of cancer. The tests and procedures that may be ordered by your doctor for diagnosis include:

Sputum cytology: a sample of phlegm (mucus you cough up from your lungs) is checked to see if cancer cells are present.

Chest X-ray: an X-ray of the organs and bones inside your chest.

Bronchoscopy: a procedure to look inside your trachea and large airways of your lung to check for abnormal areas. A bronchoscope (a thin, lighted tube) is passed through your mouth into your trachea and lungs. Tissue samples can then be taken for biopsy.

Electromagnetic navigational bronchoscopy: this procedure uses a bronchoscope (a thin, lighted tube) with GPS-like technology to create a three-dimensional picture of your lungs. This allows your pulmonologist or surgeon to steer a set of catheters through your lungs to reach the area that is abnormal on CT scan. Once it is reached, tiny biopsy tools are passed through the scope and tissue samples are then obtained.\

Endobronchial Ultrasound (EBUS): ultrasound uses sound waves to make pictures of parts of your body. For endobronchial ultrasound, a bronchoscope (a thin, lighted tube) is fitted with an ultrasound device at its tip and is passed down into your windpipe. If areas of concern are seen on ultrasound (such as enlarged lymph nodes), a hollow needle can be passed through the bronchoscope and guided by ultrasound into the area to take tissue samples. The samples are then looked at under a microscope to see if cancer cells are present.

Needle aspiration: a needle is inserted through your chest and into the tumor to remove a sample of tissue to be tested.

Thoracentesis: fluid is removed from the pleural cavity (space between your lungs and chest wall) through a needle inserted between the ribs.

Thoracoscopy: a thin, lighted tube connected to a video camera is used to view the space between the lungs and the chest wall. This allows doctors to see tumors on the surface of the lungs. The doctor can also take a biopsy of any suspicious areas.

Thoracotomy: a surgery to open your chest. This procedure is a major operation performed in a hospital.