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How is cancer diagnosed?

Diagnosis of cancer can be done by: 1) Screening for early detection: As cancer can often not show any symptoms in its early stages, population screening is done if it is able to identify the cancer at an early stage, if the test itself poses a low risk and is low cost and if early treatment would result in a better outcome. 2) Blood tests: A blood sample can be used to test for certain cancer markers, such as for bowel cancer, which help support the diagnosis for particular cancers. These markers in isolation are not sufficient to diagnose cancers, as they can be artificially altered by other conditions or situations. 3) Sometimes a cancer is detected by chance, during a scan that is carried out for other reasons. 4) Procedures: Procedures used to detect cancer vary according to the type of cancer suspected. For example, a mammogram for breast cancer, a laparoscopy and endoscopy may be used to investigate stomach cancer, whereas a transrectal ultrasound can be used to investigate prostate cancer. 5) Biopsies: a biopsy is the only way to know for certain if abnormal-looking cells are cancerous. A biopsy is a sample of tissue taken from the suspected tumor. Biopsies may be taken in many ways, depending on the size, location and type of the tumor. For example, a skin cancer may be simply biopsied in the doctor's rooms, whereas for some tumors of internal organs, taking a biopsy requires surgery under a general anesthetic.

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Author: Jonathan Meddings BMedLabSc (Hons)
First answered: 18 Sep 2014
Last reviewed: 19 May 2018
Rating: 4.3 out of 5
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Category: Lung cancer


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