Imaging tests help providers visualize internal organs and structures. Chest x-rays, computed tomography, or CT, scans, and positron emission tomography, or PET, scans of the chest, abdomen, and brain may be ordered to help diagnose lung cancer.
A chest x-ray takes pictures of the organs and structures inside the chest, such as the heart, lungs, and blood vessels. This imaging test can reveal signs of lung disease, as well as other causes of symptoms not related to lung cancer.
CT scans make a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body, taken from different angles. The pictures are made by a computer linked to an x-ray machine. A dye may be injected into a vein or swallowed to help the organs or tissues show up more clearly. In diagnosing lung cancer, CT scans may be made of the lungs, as well as the brain and abdomen to evaluate whether the cancer has spread.
PET scans use a radioactive substance, called a tracer, that tends to accumulate more in cancer cells than in normal cells. The scan detects accumulations of the tracer throughout the body, including areas that may be missed by other imaging tests. PET scans can help with staging lung cancer, which is important in determining the best course of treatment.