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How Do I Know If I Have Cancer??

Signs and Symptoms of Cancer

The signs and symptoms of cancer vary depending on what part of the body is affected and by the type of the malignancy. A cancer may grow into or push on organs, blood vessels and nerves. The generalized symptoms of fatigue, extreme tiredness, weight loss, pain and fever are caused by the cancerous cells sapping up the body’s energy supply and the release of substances, referred to as cytokines, by the cancer.

Cancer patients with solid tumors often have a palpable mass or lump in a specific organ or lymph nodes that may cause changes in bowel or bladder function, eating problems, nausea, vomiting, persistent cough, and bleeding

. For those with tumors of the brain and central nervous system headaches, seizures, vision and a

uditory changes, dizziness, and weakness may be present.

Symptoms that persist, progress and do not resolve over time should raise a red flag and warrant investigation, careful history, physical examination, laboratory, and imaging tests.

Sometimes, cancer-related check-up surveillance and screening procedures may find a cancer before symptoms develop; examples include breast mammograms, colonoscopy, and routine skin checks. More information on early detection at the American Cancer Society Guidelines for the Early Detection of Cancer


Laboratory tests examine a sample of blood, urine, other bodily fluid, or tissue to gain information about a person’s health. Some laboratory tests provide precise and reliable information about specific health problems. Other tests provide more general information that helps doctors identify or rule out possible health problems. Common tests, listed in alphabetical order include the following:

· Blood chemistry tests measures levels substances released into the blood stream by organs and tissues such as electrolytes, p

roteins, enzymes, fats, and metabolites. Elevated or low levels may be signs of disease or side effects of therapy

· Cancer gene mutation testing determines the presence or absence of specific inherited oncogenes and tumor suppressor gene mutations that play a role in cancer development. Examples include BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations, which play a role in development of breast, ovarian, and other cancers.

· Complete blood count (CBC) measures the levels of blood cells, including red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. The CBC also measures the amount of hemoglobin, the protein that carries oxygen, the percentage of red blood cells, hematocrit and the relative size of the red cells.

· Cultures of the blood, body fluids and tissues determine the presence or absence of infection secondary to bacteria, fungi, and viruses

· Cytogenetic analysis from the blood or bone marrow determines the number and structure of chromosomes in the white blood cells

· Immunophenotype determines the types of antigens present on the cell surface. It is performed on blood cells, bone marrow samples, as well as body fluids and tissues

· Sputum cytology identifies abnormal cells found in mucus

· Tumor marker analysis measures the levels and activity of specific proteins and genes found in certain tissues, blood, body fluids that may be consistent with a cancer diagnosis. Some tumor marker tests analyze DNA to look for specific gene mutations that may be present in cancers but not normal tissues. Still other tumor marker tests, measure gene expression and analyze the expression of a specific group of genes in tumor samples. The presence of a tumor marker represents a potential drug target directed specifically against the marker. For example, cancer cells that have high levels of the HER2/neu gene or protein may respond to treatment with a drug that targets the HER2/neu protein.

· Urinalysis and Urine Cytology measures the urine contents for sugar, protein, blood cells and determines the presence of abnormal cells found in the urinary tract to detect disease

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