Friday, October 22, 2010

Symptoms and Diagnosis of Cancer


Cancer is suspected based on a person's symptoms, the results of a physical examination, and sometimes the results of screening tests. Occasionally, x-rays obtained for other reasons such as an injury, show abnormalities that might be cancer. Confirmation that cancer is present requires other tests (termed diagnostic tests). After cancer is diagnosed, it is staged. Staging is a way of describing how advanced the cancer has become, including such criteria as how big it is and whether it has spread to neighboring tissue or more distantly to lymph nodes or other organs.


Screening tests serve to detect the possibility that a cancer is present before symptoms occur. Screening tests usually are not definitive; results are confirmed or disproved with further examinations and tests. Diagnostic tests are performed once a doctor suspects that a person has cancer.

Although screening tests can help save lives, they can be costly and sometimes have psychologic or physical repercussions. Screening tests can produce false-positive results—results that suggest a cancer is present when it actually is not. False-positive results can create undue psychologic stress and can lead to other tests that are expensive and risky. Screening tests can also produce false-negative results—results that show no hint of a cancer that is actually present. False-negative results can lull people into a false sense of security. For these reasons, there are only a small number of screening tests that are considered reliable enough for doctors to use routinely.

Doctors determine whether a particular person is at special risk for cancer—because of age, sex, family history, previous history, or lifestyle—before they choose to perform screening tests. The American Cancer Society has provided cancer screening guidelines that are widely used. Other groups have also developed screening guidelines. Sometimes recommendations vary among different groups, depending on how the groups' experts weigh the relative strength and importance of available scientific evidence.

In women, two of the most widely used screening tests are the Papanicolaou (Pap) test to detect cervical cancer and mammography to detect breast cancer. Both screening tests have been successful in reducing the death rates from these cancers in certain age groups.

In men, prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels in the blood may be used to screen for prostate cancer. PSA levels are high in men with prostate cancer, but levels also are elevated in men with noncancerous (benign) enlargement of the prostate. As such, the main drawback to its use as a screening test is the large number of false-positive results, which generally lead to more invasive tests. Whether the PSA test should be used routinely to screen for prostate cancer is unresolved, with varying recommendations from different groups. Men over 50 should discuss the PSA test with their doctor.

A common screening test for colon cancer involves checking the stool for blood that cannot be seen by the naked eye (occult blood). Finding occult blood in the stool is an indication that something is wrong somewhere in the gastrointestinal tract. The problem may be cancer, although many other disorders, such as ulcers, hemorrhoids, diverticulosis (small pouches in the colon wall), and abnormal blood vessels in the intestinal walls, can also cause small amounts of blood to leak into the stool. In addition, taking an aspirin or another nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) or even eating red meat can temporarily produce a positive result. Positive results on the most commonly used test can occasionally be caused by consuming certain raw fruits and vegetables (turnips, cauliflower, broccoli, melons, radishes, and parsnips). Some people with blood in the stool may have negative test results because they have consumed vitamin C. Newer screening tests for occult blood that use a different technique are much less susceptible to such errors but are somewhat more costly. Outpatient procedures such as sigmoidoscopy and colonoscopy are also often used for colon cancer screening.

Some screening tests can be done at home. For example, monthly breast self-examinations may help women detect breast cancer. Periodically examining the testes may help men detect testicular cancer, one of the most curable forms of cancer, especially when diagnosed early. Checking the mouth for sores may help detect mouth cancer in an early stage.

Cancer Screening Recommendations
Procedure Frequency
Skin cancer
Physical examination Should be part of a routine checkup; more frequent examinations may be needed for people at high risk for developing skin cancer
Whole-body photography Not routinely needed; may be helpful for people with multiple moles or in whom examination of the skin is difficult
Lung cancer
Chest x-ray Not recommended on a routine basis
Sputum cytology Not recommended on a routine basis
Low-dose spiral computed tomography Not recommended on a routine basis, but is under investigation
Rectal and colon cancer
Stool examination for occult blood Yearly after age 50†
Sigmoidoscopic or colonoscopic examination
Every 5 years beginning at age 50 (sigmoidoscopy)†
Every 10 years beginning at age 50 (colonoscopy)
Prostate cancer
Rectal examination Yearly after age 50
Blood test for prostate-specific antigen Yearly after age 50
Cervical cancer
Papanicolaou (Pap) test Annual regular Pap test (or newer liquid-based Pap test every 2 years) beginning between ages 18 and 21. Some women 70 years of age or older who have had 3 or more normal Pap tests in a row may choose to stop having cervical cancer screening. For women over 30, some doctors recommend testing every 3 years with a conventional Pap test plus the human papillomavirus DNA test
Breast cancer
Breast self-examination Consider monthly self-examinations after age 20
Breast physical examination by health care provider Every 3 years between ages 20 and 39, then yearly
Mammography Yearly, starting at age 40
*Recommendations for screening are influenced by many factors. These screening recommendations are for asymptomatic people with an average risk of cancer. For people with a higher risk, such as those with a strong family history of certain cancers or those who have had a previous cancer, screening may be recommended more frequently or to start at a younger age. Screening tests other than those listed here may also be recommended. Furthermore, other organizations, such as the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, may have slightly different recommendations. A person's physician can help the person decide when to begin screening and which tests should be used.
†The combination of yearly stool examination for occult blood and sigmoidoscopy every 5 years is preferred over either of these options alone.

Diagnostic Tests and Staging


Usually, when a doctor first suspects cancer, some type of imaging study, such as x-ray, ultrasonography, or computed tomography (CT), is performed. For example, a person with chronic cough and weight loss might have a chest x-ray; a person with recurrent headaches and trouble seeing might have a CT scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of their head. Although these tests can show the presence, location, and size of an abnormal mass, they cannot confirm that cancer is the cause. Cancer is confirmed by finding cancer cells on microscopic examination of samples from the suspected area. Usually, the sample must be a piece of tissue, although sometimes examination of the blood is adequate (such as in leukemia). Obtaining a tissue sample is termed a biopsy. Biopsies can be performed by cutting out a small piece of tissue with a scalpel, but very commonly the sample is obtained using a hollow needle. Such tests are commonly done without the need for an overnight hospital stay (outpatient procedure). Doctors often use ultrasonography or a CT scan to guide the needle to the right location. Because biopsies can be painful, the person is usually given a local anesthetic to numb the area.

In people with findings on examination or imaging tests that suggest cancer, measuring blood levels of tumor markers may provide additional evidence for or against the diagnosis of cancer. In people who have been diagnosed with certain types of cancer, tumor markers may be useful to monitor the effectiveness of treatment and to detect possible recurrence of the cancer. For some cancers, the level of a tumor marker drops following treatment and increases if the cancer recurs

Selected Tumor Markers
Tumor Marker
Comment About Testing
Alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) Levels may be raised in the blood of people with cancer of the colon. Blood levels may also be elevated in patients with other cancers or noncancerous conditions. Testing can be useful in diagnosing these cancers and in monitoring treatment.
Beta-human chorionic gonadotropin (ß-HCG) This hormone is produced during pregnancy but also occurs in women who have a cancer originating in the placenta and in men with various types of testicular cancer. Testing can be useful in diagnosing such cancers and in monitoring treatment.
Beta22)-microglobulin Levels may be raised in people with multiple myeloma or other cancers of blood cells. This test cannot be recommended for cancer screening.
Calcitonin Produced by certain cells in the thyroid gland (C cells). Blood levels elevated in medullary thyroid cancer. May be used to monitor response to treatment of medullary thyroid cancer.
Carbohydrate antigen 125 (CA-125) Levels may be increased in women with a variety of gynecological diseases, including ovarian cancer. This is not recommended for routine cancer screening.
Carbohydrate antigen 19-9 (CA 19-9) Levels may be increased raised in people with cancers of the digestive tract, particularly pancreatic cancer. This test cannot be recommended for cancer screening.
Carbohydrate antigen 27.29 (CA27.29) Levels may be increased in people with breast cancer. This test cannot be recommended for cancer screening.
Carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) Levels may be raised in the blood of people with cancer of the colon. Blood levels may also be elevated in patients with other cancers or noncancerous conditions. After surgery for colon cancer, testing can be useful in monitoring treatment and detecting recurrence.
Lactate dehydrogenase Levels can be raised for a variety of reasons. This test cannot be recommended for cancer screening. However, it is useful in assessing prognosis and monitoring treatment, particularly for people with testicular cancer, melanomas, and lymphomas.
Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) Levels are raised in men with noncancerous (benign) enlargement of the prostate and often are considerably higher in men with prostate cancer. What constitutes a meaningfully abnormal level is somewhat uncertain, but men with an elevated PSA level should be evaluated further by a doctor. Testing can be useful in screening for cancer and in monitoring its treatment.
Thyroglobulin Elevated blood levels may occur in patients with thyroid cancer or benign thyroid conditions. This test cannot be recommended for routine screening but may be helpful for monitoring response to treatment of thyroid cancer.
*Because tumor markers can also be produced by noncancerous tissue, doctors generally do not use them to screen healthy people. Exceptions may include PSA for prostate cancer and AFP for patients at risk for hepatoma. In families with inherited medullary thyroid cancer, a rare condition, calcitonin blood levels also may be a useful screening test.


When cancer is diagnosed, staging tests help determine how extensive the cancer is in terms of its location, size, growth into nearby structures, and spread to other parts of the body. People with cancer sometimes become impatient and anxious during staging tests, wishing for a prompt start of treatment. However, staging allows doctors to determine the most appropriate treatment as well as helping to determine prognosis.

Staging may use scans or other imaging tests, such as x-ray, CT, MRI, bone scintigraphy, or positron emission tomography (PET). The choice of staging test(s) depends on the type of cancer, as different cancers involve different parts of the body. CT scanning is used to detect cancer in many parts of the body, including the brain and lungs and parts of the abdomen, including the adrenal glands, lymph nodes, liver, and spleen. MRI is of particular value in detecting cancers of the brain, bone, and spinal cord.

Biopsies are often needed for staging and can sometimes be done together with the initial surgical treatment of a cancer. For example, during a laparotomy (an abdominal operation) to remove colon cancer, a surgeon removes nearby lymph nodes to check for spread of the cancer. During surgery for breast cancer, the surgeon biopsies or removes lymph nodes located in the armpit to determine whether the breast cancer has spread there; this information along with features of the primary tumor helps the doctor determine whether further treatment is needed. When staging is based only on initial biopsy results, physical examination, and imaging, the stage is referred to as clinical. When the doctor uses results of a surgical procedure or additional biopsies, the stage is referred to as pathologic. The clinical and pathologic stage may differ

In addition to imaging tests, doctors often obtain blood tests to see if the cancer has begun to affect the liver, bone, or kidneys.

Quoted from:

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.