Cancer and detection

Cancers- how are they detected?

As cancer comes in many types and can affect different organs of the body it can develop with a variety of symptoms. A symptom is “any sensation or change in bodily function experienced by a patient that is associated with a particular disease”.

Some people may notice that they have started developing headaches that are constant and unlike any they have experienced before. Others may notice a lump in their breast or other part of their body, or a change in their toileting habits. Some even experience unexplained weight loss or sweating at night. What’s important is trying to identify and treat a potential problem early as this is often a key in winning the fight against cancer. If you experience any symptoms that concern you or seem abnormal, no matter how trivial they may seem, it is worth having these checked out by your doctor to assess whether further investigation is required.

A doctor will ask questions about the symptoms.  Sometimes these questions may seem unrelated, for example, asking about details of your medical history, the health of your family members or your occupation. The aim is to gather as much information about whether the symptoms require further investigation.

A history will often be coupled with a physical examination to gather further information and reveal any abnormalities. This may be a limited or a more extensive physical examination, and may include seemingly unrelated body parts, for example, feeling for lumps in the neck when presenting with back pain or cough.

Depending on the type of symptoms, the answers provided to the doctor and findings from the physical examination further investigation may be warranted.  Some of the next steps may include:

  • Blood tests– depending on what body system is being investigated the doctor will be looking at different aspects of the patient’s blood. For example, one component of a male’s blood (Prostate Specific Antigen- “PSA”) may be increased with prostate cancer, whilst certain blood components may be abnormal if leukaemia is present
  • Imaging– such as x-ray, Computer Tomography (otherwise known as CT or CAT scans), MRI or ultrasound may be requested. A combination of these or more specialised radiology may be required
  • Scopes– it may be necessary to have a look inside the digestive tract or respiratory tract with a camera to see what’s happening on the inside of the patient’s body, or
  • Biopsy– where a sample of tissue is taken usually to be looked at under the microscope.

The diagnosis of many conditions often requires a number of tests which can take some time to complete and depending on the type of test required, may be difficult to access. Many patients find the wait for tests or results a particularly stressful time.

If you or someone you know is having investigations undertaken you can always ask for an explanation of what is happening and what the result, whether positive or negative, will mean.

There is also an abundance of information available from The Cancer Council Queensland.  Click here or call 131120 for more information.


Leave a Reply