Imaging Tests for Lung Conditions

You may need tests with various imaging machines to confirm a diagnosis. A radiologist will interpret these images to understand what internal structures are affected and to begin to understand the scope of your disease.

At Stanford, our imaging technicians specialize in imaging the lung and mediastinum, providing deep expertise you can trust. Imaging may include:


A chest x-ray is a common first test for suspicion of a lung or mediastinal condition. This test can show your doctor whether the cancer has spread.


An ultrasound uses high-frequency sound waves to create images of the lung and mediastinum and surrounding lymph nodes. Ultrasound does not use radiation and is painless. It can provide clearer images of soft tissues.

Ultrasound can:

  • Show greater detail of abnormalities
  • Distinguish between different types of tissues, such as fluid-filled cysts and solid masses
  • Help guide a biopsy needle to take a tissue sample
  • Look for potential spread of d to disease to lymph nodes


Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) uses radio waves and a powerful magnetic field to create detailed, cross-sectional pictures of tissues. MRI does not use radiation.

During the diagnostic process, MRI can help us:

  • Better evaluate abnormal findings on an ultrasound
  • Measure any tumors after diagnosis
  • Determine whether disease has spread beyond the primary site

PET and CT scans

A positron emission tomography (PET) scan is a nuclear imaging test that uses a small amount of radioactive material to highlight areas of suspicious cells. Computed tomography (CT) scans use x-ray technology to take cross-sectional images of the body. We use these technologies alone or combined, depending on the information we need from the scans.

During treatment for cancer, our doctors use PET scans alone to:

  • Determine whether cancer has spread to the lymph nodes (small glands that filter bacteria, viruses, cancer cells, and other impurities) or other parts of the body and, if so, where
  • Monitor how well cancer is responding to treatment
  • See if cancer has returned after treatment

We offer combined PET/CT scanning, which takes both scans at the same time and in the same machine to keep you in the same position. This technique allows us to combine CT images of the body with PET scans that highlight possible areas of cancer.

The combined PET/CT images show the specific locations of any cancer, providing more precise information for treatment. We use PET/CT scans to:

  • Stage cancer
  • Check other parts of the body to see if cancer has spread there
  • Monitor cancer’s response to treatment

Stanford Health Library

For confidential help with your health care questions, contact the Stanford Health Library. Professional medical librarians and trained volunteers can help you access journals, books, e-books, databases, and videos to learn more about medical conditions, treatment options, and related issues.

  • 875 Blake Wilbur, Palo Alto: 1st floor near the cafe, 650-736-1960

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Current as of: 1/2020