What imaging tests are used to diagnose thoracic cancer?
Imaging tests use different types of technology -- such as X-ray, magnets and sound waves -- to take pictures of the inside of your body. We use imaging tests to confirm whether a tumor is present and to learn more about its size and shape. The tests we commonly order include:
A bone scan is performed after lung cancer is diagnosed to make sure the cancer hasn’t spread to the bones. This test uses a radioactive material called a radiotracer, which is injected into a vein. As the radiotracer travels to the bones, it gives off radiation that can be detected by a camera. During the scan, this camera takes images of the body to see how much radiation collects in the bones. The scan itself lasts about an hour, but you may have to wait up to four hours after receiving the radiotracer injection.
A chest X-ray is a quick test that involves taking X-ray pictures of the chest area. During the test, you will stand in front of the X-ray machine. You may be asked to hold your breath and stand in a few positions.
A computed tomography scan, known as a CT scan, is a test that uses X-ray technology. It’s different than a chest X-ray because it can take pictures of cross-section parts of the body. During a CT scan, you lie on a table that slides into a tube-shaped machine. The machines takes pictures from every angle. A radiologist then uses the CT scan images to create 3-D pictures of the body. The test only lasts a few minutes, but the radiologist may ask you to lie very still to avoid blurry images.
A magnetic resonance imaging scan, known as an MRI, is a test that uses magnets and radio waves to take pictures of the chest. It does not use X-rays. Some MRIs use a special dye that helps the radiologist see parts of the body more clearly. The doctor will inject dye into the body through an IV before the scan. During the test, you lie down on a table that slides into a tube-shaped scanner. You will need to wear a hospital gown and take off any metal jewelry or accessories, which can interfere with the test. An MRI can last 30 minutes to an hour.
This test uses radioactive octreotide to locate tumors. Once injected into a vein, the octreotide travels through the bloodstream and attaches to tumor cells. A device that detects radioactive octreotide takes pictures of the body that tell doctors where tumor cells are located.
A positron emission tomography scan, known as a PET scan, uses a radioactive substance called a tracer that collects in organs and tissues, where it helps a radiologists see parts of the body more clearly. The radioactive tracer, given before the test through an IV, may take up to an hour to absorb into your body. During the PET scan, you lie on a table that slides into the tube-shaped scanner. A PET scan takes 3-D pictures that show how organs and tissues are working.
How do you use biopsy to diagnose thoracic cancer?
A biopsy is a procedure in which your doctor takes a tissue sample from inside the body so we can test it further. In most cases, the doctor will order a biopsy to confirm a cancer diagnosis made from an imaging test. In some cases of thoracic cancer, such as thymoma, a biopsy is the only way to diagnose a tumor as cancer. We offer:
Open lung biopsy
The doctor will put you under general anesthesia, make an incision in your chest, and remove a sample of lung tissue. We may leave a tube leading to your lungs in your mouth for a day or two after the procedure to keep your lung from collapsing. We also offer a minimally invasive version of this test,called thoracoscopy. In a thoracoscopy, a thin, flexible tube is inserted through a small incision in the chest.
This procedure is similar to the open lung biopsy, except the incision is made on the side of the chest and several tissue samples may be taken.