SYMPTOMS OF CANCER
Early Detections and Symptoms of Cancer
Many types of cancer do not exhibit conspicuous symptoms or cause pain until well advanced. Since early-stage cancer symptoms tend to be subtle, they are often disregarded for something less serious. Sometimes, cancer can be found before the disease causes symptoms. Checking for cancer (or for conditions that may lead to cancer) in a person who does not have any symptoms of the disease is called screening. In routine physical exams, the doctor looks for anything unusual and feels for any lumps or growths. Specific screening tests, such as lab tests, x-rays, or other procedures, are used routinely for only a few types of cancer, like those of the breast, cervix, colon and rectum.
Cancer can cause a variety of symptoms:
• Thickening or lump in the breast or any other part of the body
• Changes in bowel or bladder habits
• Obvious change in a wart or mole
• A sore that does not heal
• Nagging cough or hoarseness
• Indigestion or difficulty swallowing
• Unexplained changes in weight
• Unusual bleeding or discharge
When these or other symptoms occur, they are not always caused by cancer. Infections, benign tumors, or other problems may also cause them. It is important to see the doctor about any of these symptoms or about other physical changes. Some symptoms are specific to certain types of cancer, such as difficult urination for prostrate cancer, or flu-like symptoms for acute leukemias. Diagnostic tests are available for most common cancers. If diagnosed early, chances of surviving cancer are greatly increased. One should not wait to feel pain: Early cancer usually does not cause pain.
If symptoms are present, the doctor asks about the person`s medical history and performs a physical exam. In addition to checking general signs of health, the doctor may order various tests and exams. No matter who makes the diagnosis, a second opinion by a cancer expert is strongly recommended. These may include laboratory tests and imaging procedures. A biopsy is usually necessary to determine whether cancer is present. Accurate identification of cancer allows oncologists to choose the most effective treatment. The most common diagnostic methods include:
A small tissue sample is surgically removed and examined under a microscope for the presence of cancer cells. If cancer is present, the entire tumor may be removed immediately or during another operation.
A flexible plastic tube with a tiny camera on the end is inserted into body cavities and designed to view the suspicious area.
Blood and urine tests give important information about a person`s health. In some cases, special tests are used to measure the amount of certain substances, called tumor markers, in the blood, urine, or certain tissues. Tumor marker levels may be abnormal if certain types of cancer are present. However, lab tests alone cannot be used to diagnose cancer.
Several techniques are used to produce an internal picture of the body. Types of imaging methods include: X-rays, CAT scan (computerized axial tomography), Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and Ultrasound.
When cancer is diagnosed, the doctor will want to learn the stage or extent of the disease. Staging is a careful attempt to find out whether the cancer has spread and, if so, to which parts of the body. Treatment decisions depend on the results of staging. The doctor may order more laboratory tests and imaging studies or additional biopsies to find out whether the cancer has spread. An operation called a laparotomy can help the doctor find out whether cancer has spread within the abdomen. During this operation, a surgeon makes an incision into the abdomen and removes samples of tissue.
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