The cancer diagnosis process can be intimidating and stressful for patients. From beginning to end, cancer diagnosis may take several weeks. After patients receive a cancer diagnosis, the beginning of treatment may take several more weeks. When cancer is suspected, patients are urged to equip themselves with the medical, emotional, and financial resources needed for proper diagnosis, treatment, and physical and emotional recovery.
Preliminary Cancer Diagnosis
For most cancer patients, the initial suspicion of cancer or a preliminary cancer diagnosis is not received from a cancer specialist. A number of cancer patients consult their primary care physician about the cancer symptoms and signs they may be experiencing. In response to these symptoms, the physician may perform testing or refer the patient to a specialist for cancer testing. Patients may also receive a preliminary cancer diagnosis from specialists or physicians that provide regular cancer screening services, such as a breast cancer mammogram from a breast clinic.
Additional Cancer Testing
It is important to understand that the first discussion of potential cancer does not necessarily indicate a definite cancer diagnosis. In many cases, other diseases will exhibit symptoms similar to cancer. Patients should approach a cancer discussion with an open mind, and work with doctors and other medical professionals to ensure that a cancer diagnosis is certain. This process will involve other, more specialized types of cancer testing.
After a Cancer Diagnosis
After receiving a confirmed cancer diagnosis, patients should seek an experienced oncologist, or doctor who specializes in cancer treatment. Patients are recommended to ask for referrals from their primary care doctor, friends, and family members. Online research may also be helpful when selecting an oncologist. Once the patient selects an oncologist, additional cancer testing will be conducted to assess the full extent of the cancer. This information is then used to create a customized cancer treatment plan for the patient.
Once a cancer diagnosis is made, the oncologist will perform additional testing to determine cancer staging. Cancer staging determines the severity or extent of the patient’s cancer. With knowledge of the cancer’s stage, the doctor can compose and administer a comprehensive treatment plan based on the current state of the cancer. Cancer staging may take place a few weeks after the initial cancer diagnosis is made. After the testing takes place, the results may take up to another few weeks to process and analyze.
Cancer staging may involve:
- Physical examinations. The doctor may look, feel, and listen for unusual symptoms within the patient’s body. Physical exams can reveal tumor size and location, and whether or not the cancer spread to other areas, such as the lymph nodes.
- Imaging tests. Imaging procedures use radiation, magnetic fields, and sound waves to create images of the patient’s internal organs. Imaging may include X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computerized tomography (CT), ultrasound, and positron emission tomography (PET).
- Laboratory tests. Laboratory tests involve the specialized examination of fluid or tissue samples in a laboratory. These tests may examine the patient’s blood, urine, or cell samples. Indications of cancer may be seen through substances and organ functioning that becomes abnormal when cancer is present in the body.
- Surgical reports. If surgery was performed, surgical reports discuss the findings that were collected. These reports may indicate a tumor’s size and appearance, and observations of affected bodily systems.
- Pathology reports. This report may discuss the tumor’s size, potential growth into other organs and tissues, grade of the tumor, and type of cancer cells. Biopsies and cytology reports may be performed to aid a pathology report.
Coping with a Cancer Diagnosis
Receiving a cancer diagnosis is often devastating. Patients are recommended to seek emotional support from family and friends, as well as support groups and counselors. Patients who may need financial assistance to pay for cancer treatment should speak with their health care team to discuss financial resources that may be available.
Playing a Role in Treatment
Patients can take charge of their condition and play a role in their treatment and recovery by educating themselves about their specific type of cancer. Knowledge and understanding are powerful tools to help the treatment and recovery process. By understanding the process, patients are more able to cope with treatment by knowing what to expect and taking steps to facilitate the process.
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