Lung cancer can be difficult to diagnose early. Any symptoms need to be checked by a doctor as soon as possible.

How is lung cancer diagnosed?

If you have any symptoms of lung cancer, they need to be checked by your doctor.

Your doctor will talk to you about your symptoms, check your chest and ask about any risk factors for lung cancer you may have. 

  • Whakamahi ai ngā rata i ētahi whakamātautau hei tātari i te matepukupuku pūkahukahu, hei āwhina hoki i a rātau ki te whakarite mahere maimoa.
  • Ka whakamahia ngā whakamātautau whakaata roto, ngā matawai roro CT me ngā matawai PET me te MRI - hei whakamahi whakaaturanga o roto o tō tinana ki te titiro mēnā he puku kei roto, ā, mehemea kua hōrapa haere.
  • Tērā pea ka hiahiatia he wāhanga o te matepukupuku hei whakamātau (biopsy) ki te whakatau momo matepukupuku. He maha ngā huarahi mō te tango biopsy.
  • Tērā pea ka whakamātauria anō tō matepukupuku ki te titiro mēnā kua puta he rerekētanga ki ngā ira hāngai, mei kore ka āwhina i ngā rata whakarite mahere pai rawa mōu.
  • Ka pai ake ngā huanga o te maimoatanga matepukupuku pūkahukahu mēnā ka tere kitea, ka tere te maimoa hoki, pērā anō ki te nuinga o ngā matepukupuku.
  • Kāore e kore, ka nui ngā rata, ngā tapuhi, ngā ngaio atawhai hauora ka mahi tahi hei kapa atawhai pūkengamaha ki te whakatau me te maimoa i a koe.

Tests to diagnose lung cancer may include:

A chest x-ray (CXR) will show cancers 1cm or larger.

CT scan
A CT scan creates a 3D picture of the inside of your body. It can show smaller cancers than an x-ray and enlarged lymph nodes.

PET-CT scan
A PET-CT scan uses a radioactive dye injected into your arm that will show up in areas affected by cancer. You may have to travel for this scan. 

An MRI uses magnets and radio waves to make a detailed picture of the inside of your body.

Lung function test
A lung function test checks how well your lungs are working. 

Sputum test
A sample of your mucus (sputum) is tested to check for cancer cells.

A biopsy takes a small sample of the abnormal cells to check if they're cancerous. 


There are different ways to take a biopsy. Your doctor will explain which one is right for you. 

Types of biopsy for lung cancer include:

Bronchoscopy uses a thin, flexible tube called a bronchoscope, to look at the inside of the breathing tubes and lungs. Bronchoscopy is used to look for cancer and to take a small sample of tissue for testing.

Endobronchial ultrasound (EBUS)
A special type of bronchoscopy. The bronchoscope has a small ultrasound probe on the end. This can measure the size and position of the cancer or lymph nodes.

Percutaneous (through the skin) needle biopsy
A very thin needle is placed between the ribs and into the lung. Some cells are removed with a syringe for testing.

Uses a thin, flexible tube called a mediastinoscope, to look at and take samples of the lymph nodes in the centre of the chest next to the lungs. Mediastinoscopy is a surgical operation.

Surgical biopsy
Surgical biopsy is only done if other tests haven’t confirmed a diagnosis of lung cancer.  A surgical biopsy can be done in two ways:

  • keyhole surgery is known as video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS)
  • thoracotomy where a larger area of the chest is opened to get better access to the lung


Testing for gene changes (mutations) 

A small number of people may have a type of lung cancer which contains a change in a specific gene or protein that helps the cancer to grow.

The lung cancer cells that are taken in a biopsy will be tested for these changes.

After a diagnosis

If your test results show cancer, this can be a difficult time, and feelings can change from one moment to the next. 

Everyone reacts differently when they learn they have cancer. There is no right or wrong way to feel. 

Talk about your treatment options with your doctor, family and friends. Ask for as much information as you need. It is up to you how involved you want to be in decisions about your treatment. 

Dealing with negative attitudes towards lung cancer

Many people with lung cancer, whether they have smoked or not, can experience negative attitudes from others or in the media because lung cancer is so strongly linked to smoking.

You may feel judged and blamed by others for your cancer. This can be hard to cope with especially if you’re feeling unwell.

It may increase stress and you may be less likely to talk about your diagnosis. Some people say they feel guilty and ashamed. This can lead to depression or anxiety and affect your quality of life.

It may be helpful for you to know the following: 

  • smoking is one of the most difficult addictions to overcome
  • some people are more at risk of getting lung cancer due to a faulty gene passed down through their family
  • people that have never smoked have been diagnosed with lung cancer
  • there are other risk factors for lung cancer including air pollution, asbestos and exposure to second-hand smoke
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We know that going through cancer is tough and can raise many questions. You are not alone.

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Last updated: July 8, 2021