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How do doctors diagnose cancer?

Many types of cancer are treatable, but you need a timely and accurate diagnosis by your doctor to get appropriate treatment. The earlier the diagnosis, the less harm cancer can do to your body and the better your chances of managing and overcoming it.

Different methods for diagnosing cancer

Your doctor may use the following methods to determine if you have cancer:

  •  Consultation. Your doctor may inquire about sudden health issues like fatigue, aches and pains, numbness in certain body areas, and changes in appetite that may indicate cancer.
  • Physical exam. Your doctor may examine your body for lumps, skin discolorations, and enlarged organs. You may also do this exam yourself, as doing so helps promptly diagnose cancers in body parts like the breast, skin, prostate, and testicles. 
  • Laboratory and imaging tests. Specific tests can detect cancer-related abnormalities. Blood tests, for example, may reveal an increase in your white blood cells, which is a sign of leukemia. On the other hand, X-rays and other imaging tests can detect concerning changes in your bones and internal organs. 
  • Biopsy. A biopsy involves examining samples of your cells in a laboratory. Healthy cells look uniform and similarly sized, while cancer cells look disorganized. Your doctor can take a sample from a concerning area to test for the possibility of cancer.

In some cases, doctors may use a combination of these methods to determine a diagnosis.

Misdiagnosis remains a reality

Even with advances in cancer detection, it is still possible for your doctor to fail to diagnose your illness timely and accurately, if at all. Diagnostic errors can lead to further injury, prolonged pain, mental anguish, and the worsening of your cancer.

Factors like communication lapses, erroneous test evaluations, and neglect by your physician can result in a misdiagnosis. You may resort to a medical malpractice action depending on the circumstances and effects of a misdiagnosis.

It’s important to be forthright when reporting symptoms to your doctor to mitigate the risk of a diagnostic error. In some cases, it may be wise to seek second and third opinions.