Cancer Diagnosis, The Process

Cancer is diagnosed based on various factors. First, your doctor need to have suspicion about possibility of cancer based on symptoms and various other factors. For cancer diagnosis, usually thorough history taking, physical examination, lab tests, imaging etc. are done and confirmed by biopsy.

Thorough history taking for diagnosis of cancer:

This is an important part in the process of diagnosis of cancer. For example, a person with history of chain smoking and respiratory symptoms may have cancer of lungs. Similarly many other cancers occur due to various environmental and genetic causes, many of such causes can be found out by thorough history taking of

Physical examination for diagnosis of cancer:

Physical examination of various body parts, such as cancer, breast examination can reveal cancer. Skin cancer can be diagnosed by examining the skin in many cases. Even you can do some physical examination on your own, e.g. Breast self-examination. Any lump in breast felt during self-examination should be reported to your doctor, because any lump in breast can be a tumor (benign or malignant).

Laboratory tests for diagnosis of cancer:

Various lab tests are helpful in diagnosis of different types of cancer. For example, prostate cancer can be detected by lab test if PSA (prostate specific antigen) in blood is higher than a certain level. Leukemia (commonly known as blood cancer) can be detected by doing routine complete hemogram test, which reveal unusual number and types of white blood cells. There are also various lab tests that can be used to detect and suspect cancer.

Imaging for diagnosis of cancer:

Imaging is commonly done to detect cancer, as well as extent of cancer and spread of cancer (metastasis) to other body parts/organs. Imaging for cancer detection include simple X-ray to ultrasound, CT scan, MRI scan and PET (positron emission tomography) scan. This are noninvasive methods of cancer diagnosis.

Biopsy for diagnosis of cancer:

Biopsy is the only way to confirm diagnosis of cancer, in this procedure your doctor takes/collects a sample of tissue/cells and send it to pathologist for examination under microscope. The sample is examined directly under microscope and checked if there are any abnormal cancerous cells in it.

Over and above the mentioned methods of diagnosis of cancer, screening for cancer among high risk and susceptible group of people provide possibility of early detection of cancer and possible chance of cure. Hence, whenever possible and applicable cancer screening should be done.


Image courtesy of [David Castillo Dominici] at

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