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Diagnosis Of Cancer

Diagnosis Of Cancer

How is a diagnosis of cancer made? The cancer symptoms that are described in detail in each of the separate organ specific cancer chapters suggest that there might be an underlying cancer; but how does the physician pinpoint that there is an underlying cancer?

The doctor will do cancer tests, which will diagnose that cancer is present or the tests will rule it out. Often there are more non-specific cancer tests like the blood in stool test that may be useful for screening. But if the test is positive for blood, the doctor will refer the patient for a more specific test, a colonoscopy, to a gastroenterologist or surgeon to zero in on the specific diagnosis.

To complete this example, if the colonoscopy confirms a cancerous polyp, the doctor will likely examine the patient carefully to rule out an enlarged liver, fluid in the abdomen (ascites) and do some more blood tests to rule out liver metastases by checking liver enzymes and doing more specific cancer blood tests such as the carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA). Other tests such as a liver ultrasound and a bone scan might be ordered, depending on the clinical situation.

Diagnosis Of Cancer

Diagnosis Of Cancer

In this example there might only be the finding of the cancerous polyp in the large intestine, but no positive other tests to indicate that there are no metastases. This would be a case of a localized Duke A stage colon cancer with a 5-year survival rate of 91% following local surgery.

Details of cancer staging can be found in the various cancer chapters (click on links below).



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Last modified: September 21, 2014

This outline is only a teaching aid to patients and should stimulate you to ask the right questions when seeing your doctor. However, the responsibility of treatment stays in the hands of your doctor and you.