Diagnosing Cancer

Finding that needle in a haystack

Sometimes, finding cancer can be like finding a needle in a haystack. Your body is made up of millions of cells, and finding the small number of “renegade” cancer cells takes skill and the rightowens talking to patient screen equipment.

Getting the right diagnosis – and a detailed diagnosis – is a critical first step in planning your cancer treatment. The more information your doctors have, the better they can develop a personalized treatment plan likely to succeed.

There is no single test that can accurately diagnose cancer. Evaluating a patient usually requires a thorough history, a physical examination, and diagnostic tests. Sometimes many tests are required to determine if you have cancer or if another condition is causing cancer-like symptoms.

We offer leading-edge capabilities using some of the most advanced technology available in diagnosing cancer. Common diagnostic methods include:

  • Biopsy: A biopsy removes a small tissue sample so the cells can be analyzed in a lab. Biopsy methods include surgical, CT, ultrasound, and fluoroscopic procedures. At Aurora BayCare, we offer several leading-edge biopsy procedures for specific types of cancer.  This includes image-guided frameless biopsy for brain tumors and stereotactic core biopsy for abnormal tissue masses in the breast. 
  • Blood Tests: Some tumors release tumor markers that can be detected in the blood. 
  • Diagnostic Imaging: A variety of technologies and tools are used to capture an internal picture of the body.  Imaging may include X-rays, CAT scan, MRI, ultrasound, or PET scans.
    Some diagnostic imaging tools are used specifically to detect certain types of cancer: digital mammograms (breast cancer), virtual colonoscopies (colon cancer), and CT scans (lung cancer).
  • Endoscopy: During an endoscopy, a small plastic tube with a tiny camera on the end is inserted into the body, allowing your physician to get a better look at suspicious areas.
  • Nuclear Imaging: In a nuclear imaging test, you are given a very low dose of a radioactive substance called a tracer. Special detection equipment including PET and SPECT scanners can then pick up these tracers as they move through the body. These images allow your doctors to spot tumors, track where cancers have spread, or see if a treatment drug is going where it should. Some of the nuclear imaging tests we offer include bone scans, breast imaging, lung scans, renal scans, sentinel node scans, and thyroid scans.
  • Robotic Bronchoscopy: Aurora BayCare is the first hospital in Wisconsin to offer robotic bronchoscopy. We can reach deep into the lungs and diagnose lung cancer sooner, without invasive surgery.

Detection vs. Diagnosis

Detecting cancer is not exactly the same as diagnosing it. After tests confirm that you have cancer (initial detection), your doctors will need more information to determine what type of cancer it is and how advanced it is.

As part of your diagnosis we’ll talk about “cancer stages.” This is an evaluation of how far your cancer has spread.  Each stage is treated differently, so we need to know the correct stage for your cancer before we can discuss the best treatment options.

Stage 0 – precancer
Stage 1 – small cancer found only in the organ where it started
Stage 2 – larger cancer that may or may not have spread to the lymph nodes
Stage 3 – larger cancer that is present in the lymph notes
Stage 4 – cancer present in a different organ than where it started

Catching More Cancers

Aurora BayCare is part of Advocate Aurora Health. No other health system in Wisconsin diagnoses more cancer patients than we do. See us for accurate diagnosis, clinically advanced treatment, and comprehensive cancer care.

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