Sunday, February 13, 2011

Oncology Diagnostic Methods

The most important diagnostic tool remains the medical history: the character of the complaints and any specific symptoms. Often a physical examination will reveal the location of a malignancy.

Diagnostic methods include:

    * Biopsy, either incisional or excisional;
    * Endoscopy, either upper or lower gastrointestinal, bronchoscopy, or nasendoscopy;
    * X-rays, CT scanning, MRI scanning, ultrasound and other radiological techniques;
    * Scintigraphy, Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography, Positron emission tomography and other methods of nuclear medicine;
    * Blood tests, including Tumor markers, which can increase the suspicion of certain types of tumors or even be pathognomonic of a particular disease.

Apart from in diagnosis, these modalities are often used to determine operability, i.e. whether it is surgically possible to remove a tumor in its entirety.

Generally, a "tissue diagnosis" is considered essential for the proper identification of cancer. When this is not possible, "empirical therapy" may be given, based on the available evidence.

Occasionally, a metastatic lump or pathological lymph node is found for which a primary tumor cannot be found. This situation is referred to as "carcinoma of unknown primary", and again, treatment is empirical based on past experience of the most likely origin.

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