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Cancer health centre

Cancer diagnosis and treatment

How is cancer diagnosed?

The earlier a cancer is diagnosed and treated, the better the chance of it being cured. Some types of cancer, such as those of the skin, breast, mouth or testicles, may be detected by routine self-examination or other screening measures before the symptoms become more serious. Most cases of cancer are detected and diagnosed after a tumour can be felt or when other symptoms develop. In a few cases cancer is diagnosed incidentally as a result of evaluating or treating other medical conditions.

Diagnosis and testing will be different for individual types of cancer. There are more than 200 different types of cancer. In the UK, the most common types of cancer are breast cancer in women, prostate cancer in men, and lung cancer and bowel cancer in men and women.

Some cancers may be detected during routine screening, such as mammograms for breast cancer in women or a cervical smear test. Others may be found during checks or treatment for something else, because of troublesome symptoms, or an emergency admission to hospital.

A doctor will usually take a complete medical history and carry out a physical examination. Laboratory tests of blood, urine, and stool may be arranged to detect abnormalities that may indicate cancer.

When a tumour is suspected, a referral to a specialist may be arranged, along with imaging tests such as X-rays, computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), ultrasound, and fibre optic scope examinations help doctors determine its location and size. To confirm the cancer diagnosis, a biopsy is performed: A tissue sample is surgically removed from the suspected malignancy and studied under a microscope to check for cancer cells.

If a tumour or cancer is found, more tests may be performed to provide specific information about the cancer, such as the size and whether it has spread to other parts of the body. This is called staging.

What are the treatments for cancer?

The treatment will differ depending on the type of cancer and the stage of its progression.

The main treatments for cancer are:

  • Chemotherapy drugs to kill cancer cells.
  • Radiotherapy high energy X-rays to kill cancer cells.
  • An operation or procedure to remove a tumour or cancerous tissue.
  • Biological or targeted therapies work with the body's immune system to kill cancer cells. This type of treatment includes monoclonal antibodies, cancer growth inhibitors, angiogenesis inhibitors and vaccines.
  • Hormonal therapies to slow the growth and activity of cancer cells may be used for some cancers, including breast cancer and prostate cancer.
  • Bone marrow transplants may be used for certain types of cancer, such as leukaemia or cancer of the blood.

WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on March 01, 2017

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