December 30, 2021
Getting diagnosed with cancer is scary; however, one should be more worried about the delay in diagnosis and receiving the necessary treatment. Many a time, we come across patients who reach out to the doctors only after the symptoms become far more palpable, and the disease has spread to advanced stages, when it is relatively challenging to treat.
It could be due to lack of awareness, taboos associated with it or even the fear of getting diagnosed with the worst nightmare. Whatever is the reason, there is no denying that early diagnosis is extremely crucial in successfully combating cancer and one should be aware of those advanced tests, which can pinpoint the emergence and growth of cancer cells, at the very beginning, sometimes, even before the symptoms start.
Why is Cancer Screening Important?
Getting tested for the presence of cancer cells or tumour is imperative for many reasons.
- An early diagnosis makes treatment much easier.
- The patient may not have to undergo rigorous treatments, which may include multiple cycles of chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
- Certain patients may not have to undergo chemotherapy or radiation therapy at all. A minimally invasive surgery could successfully treat the condition.
- Recovery is much easier and faster. Patients can get back to their normal routine with a few dietary and lifestyle modifications.
- The risk of fatality due to cancer would reducedrastically.
What are the Steps Included in Diagnosing Cancer?
1. Physical Exam:
A physical examination is where your doctor will physically examine you for the presence of lumps, visible abnormal growths, changes in skin complexion including patches, the sudden emergence of moles or variations in existing moles, enlargement of an organ, pain in certain areas, etc., that might indicate the presence of tumour or cancer.
2. Lab Tests:
Regular blood tests and a routine urine test can reveal several abnormalities that are caused due to cancer. For instance, if the complete blood count reveals an unusual number of white blood cells, it is often an indication of leukaemia.
3. Imaging Tests:
Imaging tests like Computerised Tomography (CT) scan, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan, Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scan, X-ray, Ultrasound, etc., are quite imperative in tracing the tumour.
A biopsy is a minimally invasive procedure where the doctor collects the tissue from the body and sends it for lab tests to look for the presence of cancer cells. It is a more accurate and quicker way to diagnose cancer.
What are the Tests that can Diagnose Cancer Early?
There are many tests that help in revealing the presence of cancer cells in the body. Though a good number of tests are generic, a few are gender-specific and some are prescribed only to look out for tumours in specific organs.
Mammography is an imaging test that is used for breast cancer detection in women with no apparent symptoms. There are two types of mammography – screening mammography and diagnostic mammography. While screening mammography aids in detecting tumours that cannot be felt, such asmicro-calcifications or tiny deposits of calcium, a diagnostic mammography is recommended, only after a lump or other apparent symptoms like breast pain, thickening of the skin on the breast, nipple discharge, etc., is noticed. If the doctor notices the presence of cancer in the breasts, he/she may recommend immediate treatment to reduce the risk of further complications.
2. Pap Test and Human Papillomavirus Test:
Cervical Cancer is one of the common cancers among Indian women, and it is also one of the leading reasons behind fatalities among women. It can be easily detected through the Pap test and Human Papillomavirus (HPV) test. These tests help in early detection and prevention of advanced-stage cervical cancers. Often done in combination, these tests reveal the presence and growth of abnormal cells and can be treated before they become cancerous. Doctors recommend it for women from the age group of 19 to 65, annually.
Colorectal cancers have become quite prevalent in the last few years. The two tests that can bring down the risk of colorectal cancers are colonoscopy and sigmoidoscopy. These tests help in detecting the abnormal growths called polyps in the regions of colon and rectum. These polyps can be surgically removed before they turn into cancer, and it is recommended to those with other severe gastrointestinal issues between the age group of 50 to 70.
4. PSA Test:
Known as Prostate-Specific Antigen test, this is recommended as a screening test for prostate cancer. This particular test measures the level of Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA)in the blood; this protein is produced by the prostate gland. Elevated levels of PSA could be an indication of prostate cancer. However, higher PSA count is also caused due to other prostate conditions, such as prostate enlargement. Therefore, if PSA is found in high levels, additional tests are necessary in order to achieve a definitive diagnosis.
5. Skin Exam:
Changes on the skin, like the sudden appearance of a mole, variations in the size, colour on an existing mole, patches are often an indication of skin cancer. If you notice any such changes on the body, it is extremely important for you to see your doctor immediately for a swift diagnosis and treatment.
Also known as a sonogram, an ultrasound scan is a procedure wherein high-frequency sound waves are used for creating an image of the organ, located inside the body. It is used for diagnosing tumoursor other health conditions and for even guiding through certain surgical procedures.
2. CT Scan:
Computed Tomography or a CT scan projects a series of X-ray images that are captured from different angles that are processed for creating cross-sectional images or slices of bones, soft tissues and blood vessels inside the body. CTscan images provide more detailed information that is useful in locating and staging tumours.
3. MRI Scan:
An MRI or Magnetic Resonance Imaging is a non-invasive diagnostic technique that aids in examining organs, tissues and skeletal systems by projecting high-resolution images for diagnosing tumours and other health conditions.
Positron Emission Tomography or PETis a highly-advanced imaging tool that uses small amounts of radioactive materials known as radiotracers or radiopharmaceuticals for assessing the functioning of each organ, besides identifying changes at the cellular level. A PET scanaids in detecting the onset of cancer from a very early stage.
Screening tests for cancer have become more important than ever. And this is especially true for high-risk individuals.
Along with healthy lifestyle practices, oncologists across the world recommend regular screening tests that help in bringing down the risk of a broad spectrum of cancers and supporting salubrious living.