Diagnosis and Staging

An accurate lung cancer diagnosis is a major factor in the treatment strategy your Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center cancer team will devise specifically for you.

Screening for early detection is important, as is listening to your body for signs and symptoms such as a cough, coughing up bloody or rust-colored sputum, constant chest pain, fatigue, headaches, and unexplained fever, particularly if you are a current or former smoker.

A low radiation dose computed tomography (LDCT) scan of the chest is recommended for specific people at high risk to develop lung cancer. Please check with your doctor if you qualify for LDCT screening.


Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center has unique, highly trained specialists and the most advanced equipment to diagnose, stage, and treat lung cancer.

Our multidisciplinary team includes highly trained thoracic surgeons, radiologists, interventional radiologists, cytology and pathology specialists, and interventional pulmonologists. We all work together to provide you with the best care.

Tests to diagnose lung cancer include:

Imaging tests
Can include a computed tomography (CT) scan, which can reveal small lesions on your lungs that X-rays might not detect; a PET scan, which can help differentiate between normal tissues and cancer; bone scan; and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of different body organs.
An outpatient procedure to look into the airways for abnormalities. Sometimes X-ray is used during the procedure.
Pathology and cytology biopsies
Biopsies are obtained from lung nodules, lung masses, lymph nodes within the chest, and other lesions within or outside the chest. This is done using state-of-the-art minimally invasive surgical, interventional radiology, and interventional pulmonary procedures. Examples include:
  • CT and ultrasound guided biopsies
  • General bronchoscopy
  • Advanced diagnostic guided bronchoscopy procedures using endobronchial ultrasound probes, navigational bronchoscopy, thin and ultra thin bronchoscopy, and other techniques
  • Thoracentesis and pleuroscopy
  • Mediastinoscopy
  • Minimally invasive robotic and video-assisted thoracoscopic surgical sampling techniques

Lung Cancer Stages

If lung cancer has been diagnosed, our team will perform additional tests to stage the cancer, or determine if the cancer has spread locally or outside the chest. We stage lung cancer using endobronchial or endoscopic ultrasound, ultrasound-guided needle biopsy, or removal of fluid from the chest cavity.

Lung cancer stages include:

  • Stage 0 and Stage I lung tumors are generally small in size and have not spread to other areas of the body. This is often referred to as early-stage lung cancer, and at these stages your UT Southwestern cancer treatment team may suggest surgery, such as robotic lobectomy, to completely remove the tumor.
  • Stage II lung tumors are somewhat larger and may have begun to spread to nearby lymph nodes. Your cancer treatment team may recommend surgery alone or in combination with medical treatment or radiation treatments.
  • Stage III lung cancer has begun to spread, perhaps to the lymph nodes located in the center of the chest, or perhaps into nearby structures in the lung. This makes it less likely that surgery alone will be able to successfully treat your cancer, so your UT Southwestern team may recommend a combination of surgery, medical treatment, and/or radiation therapy.
  • Stage IV is the most advanced stage of lung cancer. The cancer has spread to both lungs or to another part of the body. At this stage, surgery is unlikely to be effective, and your UT Southwestern specialists may recommend medical treatment.

After Your Diagnosis

The lung cancer care team at Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center uses a multidisciplinary approach to treat your lung cancer through medical treatment, radiation therapy, interventional pulmonology procedures, and surgery, as appropriate. We also provide support for you and your family throughout your care.

Our experts have one unified goal: to defeat your lung cancer and restore your health.

Request an Appointment

To schedule an appointment with a member of our lung cancer care team, request an appointment or call 214-645-8300.