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How is Cancer Diagnosed?

Dr. Navile Aditya Murli

There is no single, simple method to diagnose cancer. It may take several months or years for malignant cells to multiply to the point where they become a detectable cancer. The symptoms produced by a cancer depend on its location and unfortunately it is possible for cancer to become widespread before it starts to produce any symptoms at all.

Sometimes cancers may be discovered accidentally during routine tests or the investigation of non-specific symptoms.

The cancers that are easiest to detect are those that are on the skin and which show, for example, as a change in a mole or wart. Others may start close to the surface and can be seen or felt as a lump or thickening. There are also some parts of the body that are relatively easy to examine for early signs of cancer such as the mouth and throat, the cervix and vagina or the rectum and anus.

What is Biopsy ?

Cancer is usually diagnosed by an expert who has looked at cell or tissue samples under a microscope. In some cases, tests done on the cells’ proteins, DNA, and RNA can help tell doctors if there’s cancer. These test results are very important when choosing the best treatment options.

Tests of cells and tissues can find many other kinds of diseases, too. For instance, if doctors are not sure a lump is cancer, they may take out a small piece of it and have it tested for cancer and for infections or other problems that can cause growths that may look like cancer.

The procedure that takes out a piece of the lump, or a sample for testing is called a biopsy. The tissue sample is called the biopsy specimen. The testing process is sometimes referred to as pathology.

How Biopsy is done ?

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 excisionalor incisional.
    • In an excisional biopsy, the surgeonremoves 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.

Lumps that could be cancer might be found by imaging tests or felt as lumps during a physical exam, but they still must be sampled and looked at under a microscope to find out what they really are. Not all lumps are cancer. In fact, most tumors are not cancer

 Is a CONSULANT MEDICAL ONCOLOGY at Oncoplus Cancer Care Centre, Defence Colony, New Delhi. He did His Senior Resident and fellowship for three years in Cancer Institute Adyar Chennai.

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