Lung Cancer FAQ: Using bronchoscopy to detect lung cancer

Q: What is a bronchoscopy and why is it used to detect lung cancer?

A: A flexible bronchoscope is a thin flexible tube that is passed down the throat and into the main airways (bronchi). It allows the physician to get a good look at the condition of these airways and to take pictures and biopsies.

Lung cancers usually start in the airways. The bronchoscope can be used to take brushings and washings of the surface of the airways that can be tested for cancer cells under a microscope. It can also be used to take a small piece of tissue called a biopsy from a suspicious looking area.

Some cancer cells may be deep or difficult to biopsy, in which case the test may be non-diagnostic. There are several other ways to obtain a biopsy of lung tissue if needed.

A bronchoscopy is most often performed in the outpatient setting. You will be asked to not eat or drink anything for a few hours before the procedure. Medications to relax you and numb your throat may be given just prior to the bronchoscopy.

The bronchoscope will be gently be passed through your nose or mouth and then into your airway. There may be a little discomfort during the procedure. A bronchoscopy usually lasts just a few minutes. Because of the sedation used, you should not drive right after a bronchoscopy and will need to a get a ride home.

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Answers provided by Providence lung cancer experts.
Last updated: August 2002