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Detectioin and Diagnosis

Diagnostic Tests

There is a wide array of methods to diagnose cancer. As researchers learn more about the mechanisms of cancer, new diagnostic tools are constantly being developed and existing methods refined. If your primary care physician suspects cancer, he or she may order some tests to confirm the diagnosis. These tests can either be conducted by your physician or by oncologists at cancer centers . No matter who makes the diagnosis, a second opinion by a cancer expert is strongly recommended. Some types of cancer, particularly lymphomas, can be hard to classify, even for an expert. Accurate identification of cancer allows oncologists to choose the most effective treatment.

The most common diagnostic methods include :


A small tissue sample is surgically removed and examined under a microscope for the presence of cancer cells. Depending on tumor location, some biopsies can be done on an outpatient basis with only local anesthesia. If the tumor is filled with fluid, a type of biopsy known as a fine needle aspiration is used. A long, thin needle is inserted directly into the suspicious area to draw out fluid samples for examination.


A flexible plastic tube with a tiny camera on the end is inserted into body cavities and organs, allowing the physician to view the suspicious area. There are many types of scopes, each designed to view particular areas of the body. For instance, a colonoscope is used to detect growths inside the colon, and a laparoscope is used to examine the abdominal cavity.

Diagnostic Imaging

Several techniques are used to produce an internal picture of the body and its structures. Types of imaging methods include :

X-rays are the most common way doctors make pictures of the inside of the body. Specialists can spot abnormal areas that may indicate the presence of cancer.

Ultrasound uses high-frequency sound waves to determine if a suspicious lump is solid or fluid. These sound waves are transmitted into the body and converted into a computerized image.

CAT scan (computerized axial tomography), uses radiographic beams to create detailed computerized pictures taken with a specialized X-ray machine. It is more precise than a standard X-ray, and provides a clearer image.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) uses a powerful magnetic field to create detailed computer images of the body’s soft tissue, large blood vessels and major organs. MRI is an accurate but expensive process, and patients must lie completely still during the procedure for best results.

PET scan used to whether cancer has affected to any other organ in the body (metastasis) or to assess the response to the treatment in follow up.

Blood Tests

Some tumors release substances called tumor markers, which can be detected in the blood. A blood test for prostate cancer determines the amount of prostate specific antigen (PSA). Higher than normal PSA levels can indicate cancer. Recently, a blood test for ovarian cancer, known as CA-125,and CEA for colorectal cancer have become available. However, blood tests by themselves can be inconclusive, and other methods should be used to confirm the diagnosis.

Cancer Symptoms by Disease

Here are some of the symptoms for the most common cancers. If you experience them for more than two weeks, check with your doctor. Remember, detecting cancer early can greatly increase your chances of a successful treatment.

Breast Cancer Symptoms

  • New lump in the breast or armpit
  • Enlarged lymph nodes in armpits
  • Changes in breast size, shape or skin texture
  • Skin redness
  • Dimpling or puckering
  • Nipple changes or discharge
  • Scaliness
  • Nipple pulling to one side or a change in direction or retraction

Many breast changes, including lumps, are not cancer, but if you notice one or more than two weeks, see your doctor.

Colo-Rectal Cancer Symptoms

  • Rectal bleeding
  • Blood in the stool or toilet after a bowel movement
  • Prolonged diarrhea or constipation
  • A change in the size or shape of your stool
  • Abdominal pain or a cramping pain in your lower stomach
  • A feeling of discomfort or urge to have a bowel movement when there is no need

Endometrial Cancer Symptoms (uterus)

  • Bleeding after menopause (in more than 90% of patients)
  • Irregular vaginal bleeding before menopause
  • Change in bowel or bladder habits

Cervical Cancer Symptoms

  • Bleeding after intercourse
  • Abnormal bleeding between periods
  • Excessive vaginal discharge

Prostate Cancer Symptoms

  • Frequent urination
  • Hard time when starting to urinate, or trying to hold back
  • Not being able to urinate
  • Weak or interrupted urine flow
  • Painful or burning urination
  • Blood in the urine
  • Difficulty having an erection
  • Blood in the semen
  • Frequent pain or stiffness in the lower back, hips or upper thi

Many prostate symptoms are not cancer, but if you notice one or more of these symptoms for more than two weeks, see your doctor.

Testicular Cancer Symptoms

  • Small, hard lump that is often painless
  • Change in consistency in the testicles
  • Feeling of heaviness in the scrotum
  • Dull ache in the lower abdomen or the groin
  • Sudden collection of fluid in the scrotum
  • Pain or discomfort in a testicle or in the scrotum

Beginning at age 18, men should examine their testicles monthly. Testicular cancer is the most common cancer in young men between the ages of 18 and 35.

Oral Cancer Symptoms

  • White or velvety red patches in the mouth
  • Lumps or hardening of tissue in the mouth or in neck
  • Non healing ulcer in oral cavity
  • Bleeding or tooth fall

If you smoke, chew or dip tobacco, or drink alcohol, you should examine your mouth regularly.

Skin Cancer Symptoms

  • Change on the skin such as a :
    • New spot
    • Spot that changes in size, shape or color
  • Sore that doesn’t heal
  • Spot or sore that changes in sensation, itchiness, tenderness or pain
  • Small, smooth, shiny, pale or waxy lump
  • Firm red lump that may bleed or develops a crust
  • Flat, red spot that is rough, dry or scaly

Lung Cancer Symptoms

  • Cough that will not go away and gets worse over time
  • Constant chest pain, or arm and shoulder pain
  • Coughing up blood
  • Shortness of breath, wheezing or hoarseness
  • Repeated episodes of pneumonia or bronchitis
  • Swelling of the neck and face
  • Loss of appetite and/or weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Clubbing of fingers

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