Doctors use several different procedures to detect lung cancer in a patient, depending on the types and severity of their symptoms. Medical providers sometimes confirm the presence of lung cancer on imaging tests, while other cases require the testing of body fluids or tissue. While testing methods continue to improve with technology, the Lungevity Foundation reports that lung cancer affects 1 in 16 Americans, and diagnosis occurs in women and men nearly equally.
Low-Dose CT Scans
Doctors may order imaging tests such as an X-ray or CT scan to look for lumps and nodules that could indicate cancer. Patients often discover they have lung cancer in later stages of the disease, as its symptoms may appear mild or indicative of other conditions early on. According to Moffitt Cancer Center, common misdiagnoses include:
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Pulmonary embolism
However, the American Lung Association recently announced a new low-dose CT imaging test that can detect lung cancer in earlier stages when treatment may have a greater impact. Individuals who smoked regularly before tobacco companies exposed its risks or worked in environments with cancer-causing chemicals may especially benefit from this technology, as symptoms can take years to appear.
Biopsy of Affected Tissue
If your doctor cannot confirm your diagnosis based on imaging alone or have visual access to the affected area, they may perform a biopsy to establish a diagnosis. Your biopsy may involve a surgical operation in which your doctor removes a small piece of tissue or a needle biopsy, which allows the doctor to extract cells in a minimally invasive manner for testing. If cancer appears in the sample, an examination may also determine its stage.
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In instances in which the patient has a productive cough that brings up phlegm, the doctor may perform a sputum cytology of the lung secretions to look for cancerous cells. This type of testing for detecting lung cancer has a relatively high false positive rate, but it can indicate to doctors the need for further testing. Cancer detected in this stage may include occult-stage cancer, in which a tumor does not yet exist.
Stages of Lung Cancer
The stage of lung cancer refers to its level of progression. As with any cancer, early detection may increase the effectiveness of treatment and odds of survival. Unfortunately, lung cancer research receives little federal funding, making education, early detection, advanced treatment options, and patient support difficult to provide on a widespread basis. According to the Cancer Treatment Centers of America, lung cancer occurs in many stages.
Also known as carcinoma in situ, Stage 0 involves a small cluster of cancerous cells. These cells appear only where they originated and have not spread deeper into the lung tissue or to any other organs.
In Stage 1, the cancer may have reached underlying tissues. However, the lymph nodes remain unaffected.
In this stage, cancer cells may metastasize, or spread to other body structures. They often appear in the chest wall or lymph nodes in Stage 2.
Stage 3 refers to the continuous spread of the cancer into other nearby organs, such as the heart and esophagus. While treatable at this stage, the survival rate continues to decrease as the disease progresses.
40% of patients receive a lung cancer diagnosis at Stage 4, the most advanced stage. At this point, the cancer has begun to affect distant areas of the body, and the five-year survival rate drops to less than 10%.
Risk Factors for Lung Cancer
According to information about lung cancer risk factors provided by the Lung Cancer Foundation of America, 8 out of 9 primary causes consist of environmental factors. While most people today understand the hazards of cigarette smoking, second-hand smoke, radiation, and asbestos and radon exposure, many companies spent decades concealing their risks. In other cases, scientists had yet to discover their dangers. Regardless, long-term exposure to these and other toxic substances increases your risk of developing lung cancer.
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How An Attorney Can Help
Even if your exposure to smoke, asbestos, or other dangerous materials occurred years ago, their effects can linger and lead to lung cancer and other deadly diseases. Businesses and landlords today have an obligation to ensure the safety of the places where their employees and tenants live, work, and play. Some of these safety measures include keeping buildings up to code, equipping workers with appropriate gear, and regularly checking radon levels in their facilities.
If a doctor diagnosed you or a loved one with lung cancer, mesothelioma, or another serious condition and you believe the diagnosis resulted from exposure to hazardous living or working environments, an attorney can help you hold the responsible party accountable for their negligence. Contact Pintas & Mullins Law Firm today at (800) 794-0444 to talk to our legal team about seeking compensation for your case.