Two of the most important topics when dealing with cancer are the diagnosis and prognosis. How exactly are physicians able to diagnose cancer? A cancer diagnosis is often made by an expert that analyzes a patient’s cells or tissue samples to determine if there are cancerous cells or it is another non-cancerous disease. A biopsy, or sample, may be taken of a tumor to determine if it is cancerous, and blood tests can also be taken to test proteins, DNA and RNA. These testing procedures, or pathologies, are how physicians determine if a patient has cancer.
Hearing a physician deliver a prognosis is often times the most difficult of all the processes involved in a cancer diagnosis. A prognosis is a forecast of the likely course of cancer and includes the type and stage of a patient’s cancer, along with the outcome of this debilitating disease. Some cancers can be cured, while others, unfortunately, are fatal, and for those patients waiting to hear a prognosis, it is a time when they fear the worst. It can be hard to understand a prognosis at times but is necessary to assess cancer and come up with a viable treatment plan.
How Does Cancer Diagnosis Determine Treatment?
Historically, the type and stage of cancer have been identified using a combination of diagnostic imaging and pathological assessment(laboratory evaluation that uses a microscope). This then determines the treatment. The stage identifies how much the cancer has spread and how extensive it is. Usually, staging involves determining what size the primary tumor is and evaluating whether it has remained in the tissue where it started. Staging also determines if the cancer has invaded other nearby tissues or organs, and if the cancer has spread to other distant areas of the body. There is a predetermined scale that uses numbers and letters to name the stage, such as stage I, II, IIIa, IIIb, IV, etc. Higher letter and number combinations show a more extensive spread, which means the condition is more serious. The disease stage is often used to select the treatment. Very aggressive treatment is often used higher stage cancers, while lower stage cancers typically receive less aggressive treatment.
However, there is research indicating that determining how aggressive a cancer is by identifying its stage may not be the most accurate technique. For example, there are late-stage cancers that may stay in remission and some early stage cancers that may progress or even recur after treatment. The findings show that the chance of certain cancer progressing and/or recurring may be better indicated using factors other than the cancers spread at diagnosis or how it when viewed under a microscope.
The study of humans entire genetic material, which is called genomics, provides tools which are invaluable for identifying a cancers genetic components. The human genome consists of 30,000 to 70,000 genes. The groundwork for understanding the role genes play in our health and in our disease was laid by mapping the human genome. Although cancer includes many different types of diseases, all cancers share a similar aspect: damage to DNA that results in the uncontrolled growth of cells. We may gain valuable prognostic information by identifying involved in each cancers capacity to spread and grow.
The genetic makeup of cancers may be able to better predict the outcome and aggressiveness of a cancer as special laboratory techniques are improved. They may become better predictors than the stage of the cancer which in the past has been the choice for a diagnostic indicator. It is likely that genetic information will play a larger role in directing treatment. To be specific, the genes involved with each cancer could show if the treatment used should be a more aggressive one or a less aggressive one.
Factors that can affect your prognosis include:
- The type of cancer and placement on your body
- The stage of cancer – the size of cancer and if it has spread to other parts of the body
- Cancer’s grade – how abnormal the cancer cells look under a microscope. Grade lets physicians estimate how quickly the cancer is likely to grow and spread
- Specific traits of the cancer cells
- Age and health
Understanding is the best defense when it comes to a cancer diagnosis. It can prepare you and your family members to help make decisions and know what to expect. A prognosis is important to many people because it gives them the power to decide how they will continue. It also gives patients the opportunity to ask their physicians about survival statistics associated with their specific type of cancer. Patients have the power to know as much or as little information as they want when discussing their prognosis with their physician.
Topics discussed may include:
- Best possible treatment for you
- Participation in treatment
- How to manage treatment side effects and improve your lifestyle
- How to deal with financial and legal matters
Obtaining a second opinion — Know the Survival Rates
Some patients do find hearing the survival rates of their specific cancer uplifting. Cancer survival rates can tell patients the percentage of survivors for their specific type of cancer over a specified amount of time. Cancer statistics are often given using the overall five-year survival rate. Survival rates include patients of all ages and in various stages of health who have been diagnosed with specific cancer types that have been diagnosed both early and late. Survival rates are often given one of two ways: disease-free survival rate and progression-free survival rate. University Cancer Centers offers a variety of diagnostic imaging and screening services. Call 713-714-5586