Being diagnosed with cancer is never easy for the patient. Many emotions come to the surface, and each cancer patient has a unique way of coming to terms with the diagnosis. Family involvement may also play a large role in how the cancer patient copes with the diagnosis.
Symptoms of Cancer in Patients
Since cancer encompasses about 100 different diseases, the symptoms of cancer vary considerably. In some cases, cancer does not generate any symptoms. Regular screenings are especially helpful at catching these types of cancer.
Symptoms that may indicate cancer, especially in early stages:
- Change in bowel or bladder habits
- Unexplained pain
- Swelling of a body part
- Noticeable lump or mass
- Change in skin, especially moles or freckles
- Severe headaches
- Trouble breathing or swallowing
If a patient is experiencing these symptoms, a psychological reaction may begin. The patient is dealing with the discomfort of the symptoms, and in many cases begins to wonder if cancer may be developing. In some cases, patients will fear the actual diagnosis and put off seeing a doctor.
This is a dangerous thing to do, as it may be detrimental physically, mentally, and emotionally. If the patient does have cancer, the cancer is being allowed to worsen and spread without treatment. The patient is also going through mental and emotional turmoil as the cause of symptoms stays unknown and no action is being taken.
Diagnosis of Cancer
Screen tests are often helpful in catching cancer in early stages:
- Physical examination and patient history review
- Imaging methods
- Laboratory tests
- Gene tests
A review of the patient’s medical history, including family history, is a necessary component of regular screenings. History of cancer in family members or the patient may indicate a genetic predisposition to certain types of cancer based on the characteristics of the cell structure. Physicians may do certain tests based on this information to rule out the possibility of these types of cancers. During a physical examination, the physician will examine the patient’s body for lumps or abnormalities that may indicate cancer.
Imaging tests are typically only done if a patient is experiencing symptoms. Imaging tests include MRIs, X-rays, CT scans and PET scans. These tests produce a picture of the inside of the patient’s body, which can be helpful in detecting tumors that could be cancerous. If an image reveals tumors in the brain, action must be taken whether the tumor is cancerous or not. If a tumor is spotted in another area of the body, a biopsy may be done to determine whether it is cancerous.
During laboratory tests and gene tests, a sample of tissue, blood, urine, or DNA is examined for abnormalities. In some cases, the tissue can be examined for cancer, and can help physicians determine the staging and type of cancer. A biopsy is a type of laboratory test specifically designed to look for cancer, but a biopsy is typically not ordered unless the physician already has reason to suspect that the patient has cancer.
Beginning Cancer Treatment
Once a patient has been definitively diagnosed with cancer, the patient and physician can begin discussing treatment options. The cancer patient may wish to seek alternative treatments, or stick to traditional treatments. In some cases, a cancer patient’s ability to actively participate in treatments such as vitamin therapy may help boost the patient’s morale and combat feelings of helplessness. Physicians should be very sensitive to the cancer patient’s emotional state at this time, as it can play a large role in how successful treatments are.
Beginning treatment can be a very difficult time for patients and their family members. Treatments are often expensive, and the financial burden of missing work coupled with these additional expenses can be psychologically taxing for all involved. Cancer patients often undergo physical changes, such as hair loss and loss of appetite, that can also add to stress and cause unforeseen emotional disorders and complications. These types of additional impediments can inhibit healing. Counseling services may be helpful for cancer patients and family members.
“Cancer Screening Overview.” National Cancer Institute. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 06 Jun 2013. Web. 20 Nov 2013. <http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Support/home-care>.
“For Patients and Survivors.” CancerCare. CancerCare, n.d. Web. 20 Nov 2013. <http://www.cancercare.org/patients_and_survivors>.
“Understanding Your Diagnosis.” American Cancer society. American Cancer society, n.d. Web. 20 Nov 2013. <http://www.cancer.org/treatment/understandingyourdiagnosis/inde&xgt;.