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The Tests Pathologists Use to Diagnose Lung Cancer

There are many different signs and symptoms of lung and bronchus cancer which can be recognized by your doctor as possible indicators of lung cancer. 

If any of those signs appear, your doctor should recommend further testing to officially diagnose the cancer. These diagnostic tests can include, among others, chest x-rays, or computed tomography (CT) scans. These tests can discover the presence of abnormal fluids or a tumor. Should any abnormality be detected, additional tests are still needed to officially diagnose lung cancer. Only a pathologist can actually diagnose lung cancer, and a diagnosis is done by examining cells and tissues from the suspected area.

There are several methods and tests pathologists use to obtain tissue or cell samples to help them diagnose lung cancer, including:

Sputum cytology

This method of diagnosing lung cancer requires fluid to be coughed up from the lungs for microscopic examination. If cancer cells are discovered, lung cancer can officially be diagnosed. This method of testing is also a technique used in early detection screenings for lung cancer.


This lung cancer diagnosis method requires the doctor to use a long needle to remove pleural fluid from the chest. This fluid can then be tested for the presence of cancerous cells.


A pulmonologist or surgeon typically is involved during this testing method. A thin tube that emits lights is inserted into the bronchial passages through either the nose or mouth. Through this bronchoscope, the lungs and air passages can be visually examined and tissue also can be extracted for testing. The tissue can then be examined microscopically in a lab to determine if cancerous cells are present.

Fine-needle aspiration

Similar to a thoracentesis, this method calls for the doctor to remove tissue or fluid by a needle, except in this case, from either the lungs or lymph nodes. If a tumor has been detected, the needle can extract tissue or cells from the growth for diagnostic testing.


Several small incisions are made in the chest or back by a medical professional for this method of diagnostic testing. Through those incisions, a small, lighted tube is inserted, through which the doctor can examine the lung or surrounding areas for abnormalities. If any are found, tissue can be extracted and later tested for cancer.


This testing method is similar to thoracoscopy.  However, for this test, a much longer incision is made in the chest. Through this incision, lymph nodes and other potentially cancerous areas can be removed.


Similar to a thoracoscopy, a doctor using this testing method makes a small incision for the insertion of a small tube. However, a mediastinoscopy incision is made at the top of the breastbone.

All of these testing methods have the capability of removing tissue for microscopic examination. If cancerous cells are discovered by the pathologist, lung cancer can officially be diagnosed.

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with lung or bronchus cancer in Georgia and feel it was discovered late or originally missed by your doctor or medical professional, please request one of the Dover Law Firm’s free information resources on cancer available to you, including our book, I Have Cancer…Should It Have Been Caught Earlier?, and our report, Lung Cancer: The Risks, the Signs, Diagnosis and Treatment. You can also contact an experienced Atlanta medical malpractice and lung cancer attorney at the Dover Law Firm at 770-518-1133 to discuss your legal options if you've received bad medical care for your cancer.