How Cancer Is Diagnosed

How Cancer Is Diagnosed

X-rays use low doses of radiation to create pictures of the inside of your body.

If you have a symptom or your screening test result suggests cancer, the doctor must find out whether it is due to cancer or some other cause. The doctor may ask about your personal and family medical history and do a physical exam. The doctor also may order lab tests, scans, or other tests or procedures.

Lab Tests

High or low levels of certain substances in your body can be a sign of cancer. So, lab tests of the blood, urine, or other body fluids that measure these substances can help doctors make a diagnosis. However, abnormal lab results are not a sure sign of cancer. Lab tests are an important tool, but doctors cannot rely on them alone to diagnose cancer.

Imaging Procedures

Imaging procedures create pictures of areas inside your body that help the doctor see whether a tumor is present. These pictures can be made in several ways:

  • CT Scan:
    An x-ray machine linked to a computer takes a series of detailed pictures of your organs. You may receive a dye or other contrast material to highlight areas inside the body. Contrast material helps make these pictures easier to read.
  • Nuclear scan:
    For this scan, you receive an injection of a small amount of radioactive material, which is sometimes called a tracer. It flows through your bloodstream and collects in certain bones or organs. A machine called a scanner detects and measures the radioactivity. The scanner creates pictures of bones or organs on a computer screen or on film. Your body gets rid of the radioactive substance quickly. This type of scan may also be called radionuclide scan.
  • Ultrasound:
    An ultrasound device sends out sound waves that people cannot hear. The waves bounce off tissues inside your body like an echo. A computer uses these echoes to create a picture of areas inside your body. This picture is called a sonogram.
  • MRI:
    A strong magnet linked to a computer is used to make detailed pictures of areas in your body. Your doctor can view these pictures on a monitor and print them on film.
  • PET scan:
    For this scan, you receive an injection of a tracer. Then, a machine makes 3-D pictures that show where the tracer collects in the body. These scans show how organs and tissues are working.
  • X-rays:
    X-rays use low doses of radiation to create pictures of the inside of your body.

Biopsy

In most cases, doctors need to do a biopsy to make a diagnosis of cancer. A biopsy is a procedure in which the doctor removes a sample of tissue. A pathologist  then looks at the tissue under a microscope to see if it is cancer. The sample may be removed in several ways:

  • With a needle: The doctor uses a needle to withdraw tissue or fluid.
  • With an endoscope: The doctor looks at areas inside the body using a thin, lighted tube called an endoscope. The scope is inserted through a natural opening, such as the mouth. Then, the doctor uses a special tool to remove tissue or cells through the tube.
  • With surgery: Surgery may be excisional or incisional.
    • In an excisional biopsy, the surgeon removes the entire tumor. Often some of the normal tissue around the tumor also is removed.
    • In an incisional biopsy, the surgeon removes just part of the tumor.

Posted: March 9, 2015

This content is provided by the National Cancer Institute (www.cancer.gov)

Syndicated Content Details:
Source URL: https://www.cancer.gov/publishedcontent/syndication/903689.htm
Source Agency: National Cancer Institute (NCI)
Captured Date: 2018-08-09 17:10:14.0
Credit: iStock

Symptoms of Cancer

Young woman receiving thyroid exam from her doctor

If you have symptoms that last for a couple of weeks, it is important to see a doctor.

Credit: iStock

Cancer can cause many different symptoms. These are some of them:

  • Skin changes, such as:
    • A new mole or a change in an existing mole
    • A sore that does not heal
  • Breast changes, such as:
    • Change in size or shape of the breast or nipple
    • Change in texture of breast skin
  • A thickening or lump on or under the skin
  • Hoarseness or cough that does not go away
  • Changes in bowel habits
  • Difficult or painful urination
  • Problems with eating, such as:
    • Discomfort after eating
    • A hard time swallowing
    • Changes in appetite
  • Weight gain or loss with no known reason
  • Abdominal pain
  • Unexplained night sweats
  • Unusual bleeding or discharge, including:
    • Blood in the urine
    • Vaginal bleeding
    • Blood in the stool
  • Feeling weak or very tired

Most often, these symptoms are not due to cancer. They may also be caused by benign tumors or other problems. If you have symptoms that last for a couple of weeks, it is important to see a doctor so that problems can be diagnosed and treated as early as possible.

Usually, early cancer does not cause pain. If you have symptoms, do not wait to feel pain before seeing a doctor.

To learn more about symptoms for a specific cancer, see the PDQ® cancer treatment summaries for adult and childhood cancers. These summaries include information about symptoms.

Breast Biopsy: MedlinePlus Lab Test Information

 

What is a breast biopsy?

A breast biopsy is a procedure that removes a small sample of breast tissue for testing. The tissue is looked at under a microscope to check for breast cancer. There are different ways to do a breast biopsy procedure. One method uses a special needle to remove tissue. Another method removes tissue in a minor, outpatient surgery.

A breast biopsy can determine whether you have breast cancer. But most women who have a breast biopsy do not have cancer.

Other names: core needle biopsy; core biopsy, breast; fine-needle aspiration; open surgery biopsy

What is it used for?

A breast biopsy is used to confirm or rule out breast cancer. It is done after other breast tests, such as a mammogram, or a physical breast exam, show there might be a chance of breast cancer.

Why do I need a breast biopsy?

You may need a breast biopsy if:

  • You or your health care provider felt a lump in your breast
  • Your mammogram, MRI, or ultrasound tests show a lump, shadow, or other area of concern
  • You have changes in your nipple, such as bloody discharge

If your health care provider has ordered a breast biopsy, it does not necessarily mean you have breast cancer. The majority of breast lumps that are tested are benign, which means noncancerous.

What happens during a breast biopsy?

There are three main types of breast biopsy procedures:

  • Fine needle aspiration biopsy, which uses a very thin needle to remove a sample of breast cells or fluid
  • Core needle biopsy, which uses a larger needle to remove a sample
  • Surgical biopsy, which removes a sample in a minor, outpatient procedure

Fine needle aspiration and core needle biopsies usually include the following steps.

  • You will lay on your side or sit on an exam table.
  • A health care provider will clean the biopsy site and inject it with an anesthetic, so you won’t feel any pain during the procedure.
  • Once the area is numb, the provider will insert either a fine aspiration needle or core biopsy needle into the biopsy site and remove a sample of tissue or fluid.
  • You may feel a little pressure when the sample is withdrawn.
  • Pressure will be applied to the biopsy site until the bleeding stops.
  • Your provider will apply a sterile bandage at the biopsy site.

In a surgical biopsy, a surgeon will make a small cut in your skin to remove all or part of a breast lump. A surgical biopsy is sometimes done if the lump can’t be reached with a needle biopsy. Surgical biopsies usually include the following steps.

  • You will lie on an operating table. An IV (intravenous line) may be placed in your arm or hand.
  • You may be given medicine, called a sedative, to help you relax.
  • You will be given local or general anesthesia, so you won’t feel pain during the procedure.
    • For local anesthesia, a health care provider will inject the biopsy site with medicine to numb the area.
    • For general anesthesia, a specialist called an anesthesiologist will give you medicine, so you will be unconscious during the procedure.
  • the biopsy area is numb or you are unconscious, the surgeon will make a small cut into the breast and remove part or all of a lump. Some tissue around the lump may also be removed.
  • The cut in your skin will be closed with stitches or adhesive strips.

The type of biopsy you have will depend on different factors, including the size of the lump and what the lump or area of concern looks like on a breast test.

Will I need to do anything to prepare for the test?

You won’t need any special preparations if you are getting local anesthesia (numbing of the biopsy site). If you are getting general anesthesia, you will probably need to fast (not eat or drink) for several hours before surgery. Your surgeon will give you more specific instructions. Also, if you are getting a sedative or general anesthesia, be sure to arrange for someone to drive you home. You may be groggy and confused after you wake up from the procedure.

Are there any risks to the test?

You may have a little bruising or bleeding at the biopsy site. Sometimes the site gets infected. If that happens, you will be treated with antibiotics. A surgical biopsy may cause some additional pain and discomfort. Your health care provider may recommend or prescribe medicine to help you feel better.

What do the results mean?

It may take several days to a week to get your results. Typical results may show:

  • Normal. No cancer or abnormal cells were found.
  • Abnormal, but benign. These show breast changes that are not cancer. These include calcium deposits and cysts. Sometimes more testing and/or follow-up treatment may be needed.
  • Cancer cells found. Your results will include information about the cancer to help you and your health care provider develop a treatment plan that best meets your needs. You will probably be referred to a provider who specializes in breast cancer treatment.

Is there anything else I need to know about a breast biopsy?

In the United States, tens of thousands of women and hundreds of men die of breast cancer every year. A breast biopsy, when appropriate, can help find breast cancer at an early stage, when it’s most treatable. If breast cancer is found early, when it is confined to the breast only, the five-year survival rate is 99 percent. This means, on average, that 99 out of 100 people with breast cancer that was detected early are still alive 5 years after being diagnosed. If you have questions about breast cancer screening, such as mammograms or a breast biopsy, talk to your health care provider.

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Skin Biopsy: MedlinePlus Lab Test Information

 

What is a skin biopsy?

A skin biopsy is a procedure that removes a small sample of skin for testing. The skin sample is looked at under a microscope to check for skin cancer, skin infections, or skin disorders such as psoriasis.

There are three main ways to do a skin biopsy:

  • A punch biopsy, which uses a special circular tool to remove the sample.
  • A shave biopsy, which removes the sample with a razor blade
  • An excisional biopsy, which removes the sample with small knife called a scalpel.

The type of biopsy you get depends on the location and size of the abnormal area of skin, known as a skin lesion. Most skin biopsies can be done in a health care provider’s office or other outpatient facility.

Other names: punch biopsy, shave biopsy, excisional biopsy, skin cancer biopsy, basal cell biopsy, squamous cell biopsy, melanoma biopsy

What is it used for?

A skin biopsy is used to help diagnose a variety of skin conditions including:

  • Skin disorders such as psoriasis and eczema
  • Bacterial or fungal infections of the skin
  • Skin cancer. A biopsy can confirm or rule out whether a suspicious mole or other growth is cancerous.

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States. The most common types of skin cancer are basal cell and squamous cell cancers. These cancers rarely spread to other parts of the body and are usually curable with treatment. A third type of skin cancer is called melanoma. Melanoma is less common than the other two, but more dangerous because it’s more likely to spread. Most skin cancer deaths are caused by melanoma.

A skin biopsy can help diagnose skin cancer in the early stages, when it’s easier to treat.

Why do I need a skin biopsy?

You may need a skin biopsy if you have certain skin symptoms such as:

  • A persistent rash
  • Scaly or rough skin
  • Open sores
  • A mole or other growth that is irregular in shape, color, and/or size

What happens during a skin biopsy?

A health care provider will clean the site and inject an anesthetic so you won’t feel any pain during the procedure. The rest of the procedure steps depend on which type of skin biopsy you are getting. There are three main types:

Punch biopsy

  • A health care provider will place a special circular tool over the abnormal skin area (lesion) and rotate it to remove a small piece of skin (about the size of a pencil eraser).
  • The sample will be lifted out with a special tool
  • If a larger skin sample was taken, you may need one or two stitches to cover the biopsy site.
  • Pressure will be applied to the site until the bleeding stops.
  • The site will be covered with a bandage or sterile dressing.

A punch biopsy is often used to diagnose rashes.

Shave biopsy

  • A health care provider will use a razor or a scalpel to remove a sample from the top layer of your skin.
  • Pressure will be applied to the biopsy site to stop the bleeding. You may also get a medicine that goes on top of the skin (also called a topical medicine) to help stop the bleeding.

A shave biopsy is often used if your provider thinks you may have skin cancer, or if you have a rash that’s limited to the top layer of your skin.

Excisional biopsy

  • A surgeon will use a scalpel to remove the entire skin lesion (the abnormal area of skin).
  • The surgeon will close the biopsy site with stitches.
  • Pressure will be applied to the site until the bleeding stops.
  • The site will be covered with a bandage or sterile dressing.

An excisional biopsy is often used if your provider thinks you may have melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer.

After the biopsy, keep the area covered with a bandage until you’ve healed, or until your stitches come out. If you had stitches, they will be taken out 3–14 days after your procedure.

Will I need to do anything to prepare for the test?

You don’t need any special preparations for a skin biopsy.

Are there any risks to the test?

You may have a little bruising, bleeding, or soreness at the biopsy site. If these symptoms last longer than a few days or they get worse, talk to your health care provider.

What do the results mean?

If your results were normal, it means no cancer or skin disease was found. If your results were not normal, you may be diagnosed with one of the following conditions:

  • A bacterial or fungal infection
  • A skin disorder such as psoriasis
  • Skin cancer. Your results may indicate one of three types of skin cancers: basal cell, squamous cell, or melanoma.

Is there anything else I need to know about a skin biopsy?

If you are diagnosed with basal cell or squamous cell cancer, the entire cancerous lesion may be removed at the time of the skin biopsy or soon after. Often, no other treatment is needed. If you are diagnosed with melanoma, you will need more tests to see if the cancer has spread. Then you and your health care provider can develop a treatment plan that’s right for you.

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