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Cancer Staging, Detection and Imaging Exams

Staging is the classification of a disease. It is determined according to the location and extent of the cancer. From there a prognosis can be given.

Staging is an abbreviated language that doctors and oncologists use to communicate the classification of the cancer. It is also used to determine the best form of treatment according studies of other cancer survivors with similar disease or spread.

The standard staging system in the U.S. is the TNM system. This represents tumor, node, or metastasis. Numbers are then assigned to tell the size or how far it has spread. They range from 0 to 4, with 4 being larger or more advanced. They are determined in various ways including imagery, such as x-rays or CT scan. Another is biopsy where tissue is graded under a microscope.

Staging never changes regardless of improvement or decline

Staging never changes regardless of improvement or decline. For example, if a person was diagnosed with a tumor at stage 3 lung cancer that spread to the bone, it would then be referred to as Stage III Lung Cancer with metastasis to the bone. Doctors might call this “T3 Lung Ca w/ bone mets”. Staging also does not change so that survival and treatment statistics can indicate the best treatment for the survivor and for others with similar disease.

Your doctor can explain your stage and prognosis to you. Remember, even stage 4 cancers can have a positive prognosis.

Anyone with a known risk for cancer should have routine screening exams. These will detect potential cancers as early as possible. Risk factors include family history, environmental factors, illnesses that are potential precursors to cancer, and self-induced factors such as smoking.

If you know or think you may be at risk, get regular screening exams as advised by your physician. Cancer detection does not have to wait until you discover a problem. Early detection gives the best possible protection, allowing earlier treatment.

Most exams are performed in physician offices or at hospitals as an outpatient. Many may include but are not limited to imaging exams. Most begin with diagnostic x-rays as an overview. Other variations are helpful with diagnosis. Ultrasound utilizes sound waves. CT scan uses radiation to create computed images cross sectionally. MRI is a magnet that excites the body’s magnetism and is also visualized in cross sections. PET imaging is gamma rays used on the metabolic level.

Imaging exams may also reveal if cancer has spread. Sometimes a secondary cancer is detected so exams are performed to locate the primary site. It is not uncommon for the physician to order more than one type of exam. Sometimes a biopsy or specimen is taken and sent to a lab for testing to confirm if the sample taken is malignant or benign.

Speak to your physician about necessary precautions to protect yourself. Early detection is your best defense.

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