Diagnosing Cancer

Authored by Dr Gurvinder Rull , Reviewed by Dr Hannah Gronow on | Certified by The Information Standard

Your doctor will examine you to look for abnormalities such as a lump under the skin, or an enlarged liver. You may be referred for tests.

If a cancer is suspected from your symptoms

Your doctor will examine you to look for abnormalities such as a lump under the skin, or an enlarged liver. You may be referred for tests such as X-rays, scans, blood tests, endoscopy, bronchoscopy, etc, depending on where the suspected cancer is situated. These tests can often find the site of a suspected cancer. However, a sample (biopsy) is often needed to be certain that the abnormality is a cancer and not something else - such as a non-cancerous (benign) tumour.

Biopsy

A biopsy is a procedure where a small sample of tissue is removed from a part of the body. The sample is then examined under the microscope or tested in other ways to detect abnormal cells. Sometimes it is easy to obtain a biopsy. For example, from a lump on the skin which may be a skin cancer. However, it can be difficult to obtain a biopsy from deeper tissues and it may require specialised procedures.

If you have been diagnosed with cancer you will have many questions. The following are some suggested questions that you may wish to go over with your doctor:

  • What type of cancer do I have?
  • How large is it and has it spread to other parts of my body?
  • What are the treatment options for this type of cancer?
  • What are the risks and possible side-effects of the treatment options?
  • How successful is the treatment for my type and stage of cancer? Is the aim of treatment to cure or to control the cancer?

Further reading and references

  • ; Association of adherence to lifestyle recommendations and risk of colorectal cancer: a prospective Danish cohort study. BMJ. 2010 Oct 26341:c5504. doi: 10.1136/bmj.c5504.

  • ; National Cancer Institute

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