A cancer diagnosis can only be determined after the doctor has performed a screening test. When the doctor has a suspicion of cancer, these tests help ensure that the cancer diagnosis is correct. Then, subsequent tests will determine whether the cancer has spread to other areas, a procedure referred to as staging. The tests used to diagnose cancer vary and generally include blood tests, imaging studies (such as x-rays, computed tomography [CT], or magnetic resonance imaging [MRI]) as well as a biopsy.
A biopsy involves a small piece of tissue being removed from the suspect area for examination under a microscope. Sometimes a cancer diagnosis also requires an excisional biopsy, in which all of the suspected tissues are removed and examined. Also, biopsy of nearby lymph nodes is frequently done to see if the cancer has spread.
If you suspect a cancer diagnosis you should ask your physician some of the following questions:
What type of cancer do I have?
What stage is it in?
What is the prognosis for people with this type of cancer in this particular stage?
What are the various treatment options and how do they affect my prognosis?
Am I eligible to participate in any clinical trials?
What are the various options for palliative care and end-of-life care if my doctors decide that the type and stage my cancer means the treatment is unlikely to alter the outlook?
Some information adapted from The Merck Manual of Health of Aging
Additional information and web page by Paul Susic Ph.D. Licensed Psychologist Ph.D.