The first step is to analyse the associated symptoms and obtain all the relevant information about your lung cancer risk factors, such as smoking, occupational risks, and family history. After an interview (anamnesis) and chest X-ray the doctor will assess whether your case needs to be studied further with additional tests. Once diagnosed, a specialist will evaluate your overall state of health in order to select the best treatment strategy.

Tumours can be visualised, and their size and degree of extension estimated, with imaging tests. The specialist may request some of the following tests, which are painless and only require the administration of a contrast agent or tracer before the test.


A computed tomography scan (CT) of the chest. Provides a detailed image of all of the organs in the chest and abdomen (lungs, heart, the great blood vessels, airways, chest wall, pleura, lymph nodes, liver, suprarenal glands).

Magnetic Resonance Imaging or MRI machine

Positron emission tomography (PET-CT). Technique used to collect information to complement the chest CT scan. It requires the administration of a tracer which the tumour cells incorporate with a greater affinity than healthy cells. The tracer passes throughout the entire body and highlights the presence of tumours in any other areas of the body, e.g., in bones or the brain.

Positron emission tomography or PET scan of the brain

Brain CT scan. That are performed if the patient presents associated symptoms that suggest brain structures may also be affected. ody> ells. The tracer passes throughout the entire body and highlights the presence of tumours in any other areas of the body, e.g., in bones or the brain.

Whenever lung cancer is suspected, it needs to be evaluated through imaging tests (X-ray, CT or PET-CT). Once confirmed, a biopsy must be performed on a sample of tissue taken from the tumour to discover the shape of the cells and determine the most appropriate treatment.

The choice of biopsy technique will depend on the location of the tumour:

Person undergoing bronchoscopy

Fibre-optic bronchoscopy. An endoscope is introduced through the nose or mouth in order to view the inside of the pulmonary bronchi and, if the tumour can be located, to take a biopsy sample. The technique is performed with the patient under local anaesthetic. tumours in any other areas of the body, e.g., in bones or the brain.

A person lying on a stretcher and a doctor performing a CT-guided lung puncture.

CT-guided lung needle biopsy. If fibre-optic bronchoscopy does not lead to a diagnosis, then in some cases a very fine needle inserted through the chest can be used to collect a tumour biopsy sample. The needle is inserted under local anaesthetic and using CT imaging to guide the placement. 

Person undergoing ultrasound-guided endoscopy in the lung

Endobronchial ultrasound (EBUS) and/or an endoscopic ultrasound (EUS) of the oesophagus. These newly developed techniques are used to take samples from the pulmonary lymph nodes by needle aspiration. This is done by introducing an endoscope through the mouth to collect samples from inside the bronchi (EBUS) or oesophagus (EUS). Both techniques are performed with the patient under general anaesthetic.

Scissors and scalpel

Surgical intervention. Surgery is only indicated when it has proven impossible to obtain a diagnostic sample through the above techniques. It requires a general anaesthetic and a hospitalisation period. tèsia general. 

Doctors quantify tumour extension using the TNM classification system. The TNM classification is used to select the appropriate treatment and predict disease evolution.

What is Cancer?

General information about Cancer

Read more

Substantiated information by:

David Sánchez Lorente
Laureano Molins López-Rodó
Mari Carmen Rodríguez Mues
Noemí Reguart Aransay
Nuria Viñolas Segarra
Ramón Marrades Sicart

Published: 20 February 2018
Updated: 20 February 2018

The donations that can be done through this webpage are exclusively for the benefit of Hospital Clínic of Barcelona through Fundació Clínic per a la Recerca Biomèdica and not for BBVA Foundation, entity that collaborates with the project of PortalClínic.


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