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According to the American Cancer Society, approximately 1.8 million people will be diagnosed with cancer in 2020. But how exactly does someone get diagnosed with cancer? Are there always signs and symptoms? Read below to find out more.

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Cancer Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of cancer vary by person and by cancer. Some common symptoms of cancer may include:

  • Changes in bowel or bladder habits
  • A sore that does not heal
  • Unusual bleeding or discharge
  • Thickening or a lump in the breast or elsewhere
  • Indigestion or difficulty swallowing
  • Obvious changes in a wart or mole
  • A nagging cough or hoarseness

While these symptoms can be caused by an illness or other problems, call your doctor if you have any concerns. And always call your doctor if symptoms last longer than 2 weeks.

Cancer Screenings

A cancer diagnosis may begin with a regular screening test. Since some cancers develop without symptoms, or only show symptoms after the cancer has grown and spread, routine screenings play a vital role in early detection. Early detection of cancer can increase your chances of beating the disease. Cancer screenings include:

  • Physical exam to check for lumps or unusual feelings
  • Lab tests on blood, tissue, or urine samples
  • Imaging tests to check the inside of your body for growths
  • Genetic screening tests to identify inherited cancer genes

Screening tests are available for breast, colon, gynecologic (breast and cervical), lung, melanoma/skin, and prostate cancers. Talk to your doctor about which tests you should have.

Diagnosing Cancer

Whether you have symptoms or not, you should always go to your primary care doctor for an annual wellness checkup. If you have symptoms, the doctor may order one or more of the following:

  • Lab tests to identify abnormalities in your blood or urine
  • Imaging tests such as CT scans, PET scans and MRIs to look at your bones, organs, and more.
  • A biopsy to collect sample cells for testing

Visit the American Cancer Society for a list of tests commonly used to look for and diagnose cancer.

Doctors can identify cancer cells by looking at them under a microscope. They use a combination of tests, procedures, and family history to diagnose cancer.

Stages of Cancer

Once you are diagnosed with cancer, your oncology team will work with you to develop a treatment plan. Your plan will depend on the stage of your cancer. There are a number of ways to determine a stage of cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute, most systems used to stage cancer include information about the size and location of the tumor, if it has spread, and how abnormal the cancer cells appear.

Staging cancer is important because it helps determine the best type of cancer treatment for you.

A cancer diagnosis can be scary, overwhelming, and sometimes confusing. But you and your family are not alone in this fight — your cancer care team will be there to guide you every step of the way. Be sure to ask questions, take notes, and use support groups and other resources to help you get through this trying time.

About UPMC Hillman Cancer Center

The UPMC Hillman Cancer Center provides world-class cancer care, from diagnosis to treatment, to help you in your cancer battle. We are the only comprehensive cancer center in our region, as designated by the National Cancer Institute. We have more than 60 locations throughout western Pennsylvania and Ohio, with more than 200 oncologists. Our internationally renowned research team is striving to find new advances in prevention, detection, and treatment.