Doctors use many tests to diagnose cancer and determine which treatments may be the most effective. The diagnosis of cancer involves accurately identifying the site of the malignancy and the type of cells involved. Cancer can arise in any organ or tissue in the body except fingernails, hair and teeth. After cancer is diagnosed, it is staged.
Staging is a universal system used within the medical community to describe how advanced the cancer has become, including how big the tumor is and if it has spread to other areas. Staging is essential in determining the choice of therapy and assessing a person's chance of recovery.
There are a number of tests used to determine the size of the tumor, lymph node involvement and if the cancer has spread to any other areas. These tests include physical exams, imaging studies, laboratory tests, review of pathology reports and surgery reports. Once this is determined, the doctor will determine the stage of the cancer, which is generally described as Stage I, Stage II, Stage III or Stage IV.
Lower stage cancers are usually associated with a better prognosis; however, staging cannot be used to predict how long someone will live with cancer. Staging only provides a way of organizing information about a person's cancer so that doctors can better evaluate the treatment options.
Overall, the treatment of cancer depends on the size and location of the tumor, whether the cancer has spread and the person's health. The most common cancer treatments are surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy. The doctor will review treatment options, risks and benefits with the patient prior to starting treatment. It is important to understand treatment options and ensure all questions/answers have been addressed prior to starting therapy.
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