What is the role of CT scanning in the workup of non–small cell lung cancer (NSCLC)?

Updated: Jul 15, 2021
  • Author: Winston W Tan, MD, FACP; Chief Editor: Nagla Abdel Karim, MD, PhD  more...
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A chest CT scan (see the image below) is the standard for staging. The findings of CT scans of the chest and clinical presentation usually allow a presumptive differentiation between NSCLC and small cell lung cancer (SCLC). Massive lymphadenopathy and direct mediastinal invasion are commonly associated with small cell carcinoma. A mass in or adjacent to the hilum is a particular characteristic of SCLC and is seen in about 78% of cases. [47]

Lung cancer, small cell. Contrast-enhanced CT scan Lung cancer, small cell. Contrast-enhanced CT scan of the chest shows a large left lung and a hilar mass, with invasion of the left pulmonary artery.

Common sites of spread of NSCLC include the liver and adrenals; hence, CT scanning of the chest and upper abdomen that includes the liver and adrenals is the minimum standard for a staging workup for a person newly diagnosed with NSCLC. Lung nodules incidentally detected on abdominal CT are often benign. [48]

A CT scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan of the brain may be required if neurologic symptoms or signs (eg, mental status change) are present. Most thoracic surgeons perform imaging of the brain before attempting definitive resection of a lung malignancy.

Go to Imaging in Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer for complete information on this topic.

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