ZocdocAnswersHow do doctors detect cancer if you don't have a tumor?

Question

How do doctors detect cancer if you don't have a tumor?

I'm worried that I might have some kind of cancer. I just feel sickly all the time and there is pain on the left side of my body almost constantly. If there is no tumor present, how do you know if you have cancer? How do doctors figure out and diagnose a cancer patient?

Answer

Diagnosing cancer can involve many different steps, depending upon how a patient first presents. In order to confirm the presence of a solid tumor, imaging of some kind is required. It is possible for pain in various parts of the body to be caused by a tumor, and when a physician orders an x-ray or CT scan to investigate, a tumor will sometimes be noted. Often, identifying exactly what type of tumor is involved requires obtaining a small tissue sample called a biopsy. In the case of blood cancers (leukemia/lymphoma), definitive diagnosis is made through blood tests and a bone marrow biopsy in which a small amount of bone marrow is removed from the hip bones and examined under the microscope. When you are experiencing several different symptoms that represent changes in your health such as fatigue and pain, the best thing to do is always seek medical attention with your primary care physician. In this case, he or she will want to talk with you more about your symptoms and ask more detailed questions to try and understand what is happening. A physical exam and some basic blood tests or possibly imaging studies may also be important. Hopefully you don't have cancer, but if you are not feeling well, you definitely want to speak with your doctor to try and find out why.

This answer is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or (in the United States) 911 immediately. Always seek the advice of your doctor before starting or changing treatment. Medical professionals who provide responses to health-related questions are intended third party beneficiaries with certain rights under Zocdoc’s Terms of Service.