Cancer is a frightening disease that can affect any living part of the body. Indeed, the only areas that are not susceptible to cancer are the areas that are no longer live cells, such as the hair and nails, which are composed of nonliving keratin protein. Fortunately, there is a whole field of medicine dedicated to the diagnosis and treatment of cancer, known as oncology.
When cancer is diagnosed, the first step for the doctor is to determine the type and stage of cancer. Some types of cancer, such as primary brain cancer (i.e., cancer that starts in the brain), are graded rather than staged.
Diagnosing cancer is done through a variety of tests, including a physical examination, imaging scans, laboratory tests, and a biopsy of the cells in question. Each of these tests provides valuable information that helps doctors make an accurate diagnosis and determine the best treatment options for their patients.
Let’s discuss the four main types of diagnostic testing used in oncology, how these tests help physicians determine the best course of treatment, and where you can go in Wayne County to receive the highest-quality and wonderfully convenient cancer care.
Physical Examination to Check for Signs of Cancer
When a person is suspected of having cancer, the doctor will perform a physical examination. This may include looking at the skin for any abnormal lesions or growths, feeling the lymph nodes in the neck and armpits for swelling or lumps, and checking the abdomen for any abnormalities.
If any symptoms are present, the doctor will order other tests to confirm or rule out a diagnosis of cancer.
Diagnostic Imaging to Look for Tumors
X-rays, a CT scan, MRI, and other types of imaging scans are diagnostic tools that oncology doctors can use to assess the stage of cancer. These imaging scans may use high-energy radiation waves, electromagnetic waves, or a magnetic field to create pictures of the internal organs and tissues.
These images can help doctors determine the size and location of cancerous tumors without making incisions in the body or taking tissue samples, meaning they are completely noninvasive. This low-risk method is often the first type of oncology test (after the initial physical exam) to be performed because imaging is noninvasive and painless.
Laboratory Tests to Find Traces of Cancer
Laboratory tests are another important tool that doctors use to diagnose cancer. There are many different types of lab tests in oncology, but they all work by looking for abnormal levels of certain substances in a blood or urine sample.
These abnormal substances may be produced by cancer cells, or they may be markers for other conditions that can lead to cancer. Lab tests can also help doctors determine how well the body is functioning, and whether there are any other health problems that need to be addressed.
Biopsy to Assess a Sample of Potential Cancer Cells
A biopsy is the removal of a small number of cells from the body for examination under a microscope. In oncology, biopsies are the most definitive way to diagnose cancer, as it allows the pathologist to look for the actual presence of cancerous cells.
For the most part, biopsies are minimally invasive procedures, meaning a small incision may be made to retrieve a tissue sample for testing. If cells only need to be scraped from the area in order to retrieve a sufficient sample, the patient may not even need to have numbing medication for the biopsy.
Making a Cancer Diagnosis
Once the doctor has all of the information needed from the diagnostic tests, they can stage or grade cancer. This is a way of classifying how far along the cancer is and helps to guide treatment decisions.
There are many different staging systems in oncology, but the most common one used in the United States is the TNM system. The TNM system stands for tumor, node, and metastasis:
- A tumor refers to the size of the primary cancerous growth.
- A node refers to whether or not cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes.
- Metastasis refers to whether or not cancer has spread to other parts of the body.
After cancer has been staged or graded, the doctor will work with the patient to develop a treatment plan. The type of treatment that is recommended will depend on many factors, including the stage or grade of cancer, the location of the tumor (and whether it has already metastasized elsewhere in the body), the patient’s overall health, and their personal preferences.
Treatment options for cancer include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, a combination of these, or no treatment at all. It is ultimately, always, the patient’s own decision.
Diagnostic tools play a vital role in oncology, helping doctors to determine the type and stage or grade of cancer, choose the best treatment options, and monitor the progress of the disease. If you have been diagnosed with cancer, be sure to ask your doctor about all of the diagnostic tests that are necessary to achieve an accurate diagnosis and effective treatment.
Oncology and Cancer Treatment in Wayne County, Ohio
If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with cancer or is experiencing unusual symptoms that warrant an assessment, seek care from a team of experienced cancer specialists. Here at Wooster Community Hospital, our medical team works together to develop an individualized treatment plan for each patient.
Our comprehensive cancer care center is an Accredited Program of the Commission on Cancer and a Quality Program of the American College of Surgeons. We offer a wide range of services, from nutrition in cancer care (holistic cancer treatment) to advanced diagnostic imaging and laboratory testing, as well as state-of-the-art cancer treatment.
To make an appointment with us, call us today at (330) 263-8144, fill out our appointment request form online now, or enroll as a new patient in our patient portal today. We look forward to being your partner in health!