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Tests, Treatments and Therapies for Lung and Chest Cancers

No two people – or lung cancer cases – are alike.

As a world leader in cancer research, we pull from a vast array of resources to properly evaluate your situation and create a personalized plan to fit your exact needs and preferences. From the initial diagnostic testing to the post-treatment follow-up, your expert medical team will be with you every step of the way.

To partner with our team of lung cancer experts and create your individual treatment plan, call (720) 848-0300 to make an appointment today.

Staging and Detection Tests

Once a cancer has been diagnosed, it is very important to know where the cancer may have spread. This is the “stage” of the cancer; the lower the number, the less it has spread. Knowing the stage allows your medical team to determine the best possible treatment plan for you.


CT scan (computed tomography) – An X-ray procedure that creates detailed, highly accurate cross-sectional body images.


MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) – An imaging technique that provides detailed images of body structures. It uses a magnetic field instead of the X-rays used in a CT scan. It can measure the size (or change in size) of tumors.


PET scan (positron emission tomography) – An imaging test used to highlight cancer in different parts of the body. A short-lived radioactive substance is injected prior to the scan. Cancerous tissue will build up more of the substance and appear brighter than normal tissue on the PET images. Other non-cancerous tissues, such as areas of inflammation, may also “light up.”


PET/CT Scan (PET/CT fusion) –  An imaging test that combines or “fuses” the CT scan anatomical accuracy and the PET scan’s ability to highlight cancers. It is good at looking almost everywhere in the body, except the brain.

Other Tests

Bronchoscopy –  A procedure to look inside the trachea and large airways in the lung for abnormal areas. A bronchoscope (a thin, lighted tube) is inserted through the nose or mouth into the trachea and lungs. Tissue samples may be taken for a biopsy.


Mediastinoscopy –  Under an anesthetic, a tube is put down behind the breastbone (sternum) or through the side of the chest, and tissue samples are then taken from the lymph nodes in the middle of the chest.


Transesophageal Ultrasonography –  A tube with a device called a transducer is passed down the throat and into the esophagus. Ultrasound waves are then passed from the transducer through the esophagus to create a clear image of the surrounding structures. The ultrasound is used to guide a needle biopsy taken directly through the wall of the esophagus to diagnose cancer in the lymph nodes close to the esophagus.


Ultrasound or CT guided biopsy –  The removal of cells or tissues so they can be viewed under a microscope to check for signs of cancer. An ultrasound or CT is used to provide a clear image to target the biopsy.

Treatments and Therapies

Treatments for lung cancer vary greatly from person to person. Your medical team may use a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation or new targeted therapy to treat or control your cancer, customized uniquely for you.


You may decide to choose surgery as one of the first steps in fighting lung cancer. Surgery is one of the best options for treatment if the cancer’s stage is suitable for removal through an operation and you are healthy and fit enough to tolerate the operation.


Before surgery, other tests on the lungs and heart are required to establish whether you can tolerate the operation. During the operation, a thoracic surgeon usually tries to remove all known cancer, but can also improve cancer symptoms, for example, by draining fluids that build up around the lung affecting breathing. Afterward, physiotherapy often helps to improve breathing and speed recovery.


Chemotherapy involves using drugs that slow down, damage or kill cancer cells. This may involve single drugs or combinations of drugs taken intravenously or by mouth. Chemotherapy is often taken in cycles lasting three or four weeks. Your team may also prescribe drugs and other treatments to reduce or eliminate the side effects associated with chemotherapy.

Radiation Therapy ("Radiotherapy")

Radiation therapy involves using X-rays and other types of medical radiation aimed at specific parts of the body. Radiation is used to kill cancer cells, prevent them from developing or recurring, and ease many of the symptoms caused by cancer. It can be used together with chemotherapy for certain cancers (this is called “chemo-radiotherapy”).

Targeted Therapy

Targeted therapies are drugs or other substances that directly interfere with cancer growth and progression on a molecular level. They may be taken (with few side effects) on their own or in combination with standard chemotherapy. Many new targeted therapies, including vaccines and gene therapies, are currently in development.

Clinical Trials

As one of the world's leading lung cancer centers, the University of Colorado Cancer Center offers unparalleled access to one of the broadest ranges of clinical trials of new treatments for lung cancer in the world. Trials include advanced molecular testing which screens tumors for known gene problems that can be targeted with specific drugs.

Current trials for experimental targeted lung cancer therapy include one for ALK positive non-small cell lung cancer.

For more detailed information on current clinical trials, read and download our "Tumor Testing and Clinical Trials" document (PDF).

Learn more about clinical trials at the CU Cancer Center .

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