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Symptoms & Diagnosis

At Wilmot Cancer Institute, we provide the full spectrum of lung cancer care, from diagnosis and treatment to recovery and rehabilitation.

We work in multidisciplinary teams. Multidisciplinary means that our groups of care providers include experts with a variety of specialties: surgeons, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, pulmonologists, pathologists, radiologists, nurse practitioners, social workers, clinical researchers, and others. They work together on your case to provide the most personalized care possible.

Lung cancer symptoms

Getting an accurate diagnosis is essential to getting the best treatment. Sometimes lung cancer is discovered during a chest x-ray or CT scan for another medical problem. Other times it's diagnosed with symptoms, such as a cough that doesn't go away or shortness of breath. Don't ignore these lung cancer symptoms:

  • Chest discomfort
  • Blood in mucus that's coughed up
  • Unexplained weight loss or loss of appetite
  • Feeling very tired
  • Frequent bouts of pneumonia or bronchitis
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Swelling in the face or neck.

How is lung cancer diagnosed?  

Screening: Heavy smokers with no signs or symptoms of lung cancer who fit certain criteria can receive annual low-dose CT scans to screen for lung malignancies. Early detection of lung cancer is important. Eligibility requirements for screening include being 50 to 80 years old, having a history of smoking at least a pack a day for 20 years or two packs a day for 10 years, and being a current smoker or having quit within the last 15 years. Low-dose CT screening is offered at several UR Medicine locations:

  • Strong Memorial Hospital, 601 Elmwood Ave., Rochester
  • Highland Hospital, 1000 South Ave., Rochester
  • Clinton Crossings Medical Center Building D, 4901 Lac de Ville Blvd., Brighton
  • Strong West, 156 West Ave., Brockport
  • F.F. Thompson Hospital, 350 Parrish St., Canandaigua

Talk to your doctor if you would like a referral for screening.

lung cancer cellsMedical history and physical examination: This step includes a complete medical history and assessment of risk factors, including smoking history, past jobs, and illnesses.

Sputum cytology: A pathologist looks through a microscope for cancer cells in a mucus sample coughed up from the lungs. Pathologists also use other laboratory tests to determine where the cancer started and to classify the disease so that doctors can provide a lung cancer prognosis.

Biopsy: A biopsy involves removing cells or other tissue for further examination by a pathologist.

Imaging tests: This can include chest x-rays, CT scans, MRIs, and PET scans.

Bronchoscopy and endobronchial ultrasound: These tests allow doctors to look inside the trachea and large airways of the lungs for cancers or evidence that lung cancer has spread. Both tests involve passing a small instrument through the nose or mouth and down the esophagus or windpipe while the patient is lightly sedated.  When conducting a bronchoscopy, Wilmot lung cancer specialists use navigational technology that’s unique in the Rochester area in upstate New York.

Gene expression patterns: Research has shown new ways to classify and target lung cancer, based on the molecular characteristics of tumors. Wilmot offers gene testing for many patients’ tissue samples. If a targetable gene mutation is identified, our doctors often recommend therapy that attacks the effects of the specific gene mutation that is driving the lung cancer’s growth.