How are Cancers Found and Diagnosed?

5 mins read

Cancer is the plague of the modern age. It is very prevalent, to the point where it is estimated that one in two male Americans will develop some kind of cancer during their lifetime. The prognosis is slightly better for women, but it is still fairly scary; one in three women in the USA will have some form of cancer, with breast cancer being most prevalent and serious, as outlined here

Apart from being very common, it is really difficult to fully cure because we don’t yet have the cure for all types of cancers. There are numerous treatment methods which vary greatly in terms of effectiveness and invasiveness. However, it is vital to diagnose cancer as soon as possible to give the patients the best odds possible. These are some of the most reliable and commonly used diagnostic tools available today.

Imaging Tests

Imaging tests are the least invasive kind of tests available. Doctors use it for a number of things, including looking for cancer. They can be really useful for finding cancers in the earliest stages before the patient exhibits any symptoms.

However, imaging tests are not perfect and even though they can give us some information, this information is incomplete and may be wrongly interpreted. In some cases, imaging is only the first step and other, more invasive tests are necessary. There are different types of imaging techniques.

  • CAT scan – commutative tomography gives us a cross section of a body or a part of the body. It can show the tumor’s size and shape. It gives a clearer picture than X-ray machine, but use much more radiation and are more costly than an X-ray.
  • MRI – Magnetic resonance imaging uses strong magnets to show the cross section of your body. This is why it is important to tell the doctor if you have any metal in your body. It can be combined with contrast dye to enhance the image. IN some cases, an MRI can show whether a growth is a tumor or not.
  • X-rays – This is a fast test and one which is better suited to discovering bone problems than any other imaging method. It can also be used to show some internal organs, but CAT and MRI scans are better at it. The amount of radiation used in the standard X-ray testing has dropped over the years.

Endoscopy Tests

If your imaging test is inconclusive, or your doctor thinks it won’t be effective, there is another way to find out if there is a problem – endoscopy. Endoscopy is a medical procedure where a tube is put into the body to see what is inside.

Depending on the part of the body your doctor wants to see, there are different types of endoscopy. Some kinds of endoscopy require an incision to be made in order to insert the endoscope, like laparoscopy, whereas others use bodily orifices, like laryngoscopy. In some cases, anesthesia is required either to numb the area of the body where the procedure is conducted or to completely put the patient to sleep to avoid pain and movement during the procedure.

Endoscopy is a visual technique, which means that it relies on visual confirmation that there is a problem. However, if this method is not effective, there is another, more invasive technique.


Biopsy is the most invasive type of diagnostic techniques used to diagnose cancers. Essentially it is a procedure which takes a small sample of the tissue which is suspected to be a tumor and removes it from the body. This biopsy specimen is then analyzed by an expert who can decidedly determine whether the cells found in the specimen are normal or cancerous.

Once the diagnosis is set by a doctor or a team of doctors, a proper course of treatment can be discussed and determined.

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