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Diagnosing Cancer

As cance is a complex disease, there is no single test that can accurately diagnose it. A complete evaluation of a patient requires a full history and physical examination, followed by tests. Many tests are needed to determine whether a person has cancer, as many other conditions may have similar symptoms. 

Some of the diagnostic tests can include imaging, biopsy of tissue, laboratory tests, endoscopic examinations, surgery or genetic testing.

Cancer diagnosis methods:

  • Lab tests
  • Diagnostic imaging
  • Endoscopic exams
  • Genetic tests
  • Tumor biopsies

For more information:
Health Direct (Australia)
Stanford Medicine (US)


It’s completely normal to be worried about what’s going to happen to your body and how you’re going to feel during your treatment. All cancers are different, and some treatments will take more of a physical toll on the body than others. Many people are aware of the possibility of hair loss and weight fluctuations, but side effects and when they appear all differ from person to person. The type of cancer you have and what stage it’s at will determine the treatment you have and how long it will go on for. Your GP, specialist and health team will be able to explain what you can expect, what is likely to happen during your treatment and some of the possible side effects.

Things to Know, Things to Ask

Talking To Your Doctor

As you’re going through a strange and often uncomfortable process, you’ll have many questions along the way. Don’t worry, your doctor has heard everything and nothing you say or ask is irrelevant or silly. People are often concerned they have a limited time at their appointments, but a good GP or specialist will make time to reassure and answer questions. 

Going to an appointment prepared is always a good thing. In between appointments you might think of questions, or note down symptoms you want to discuss. Having these written down will help clarify what you want to talk about.

Your first appointment

The first time you see your cancer specialist (often an Oncologist) after your diagnosis can be daunting. Take a friend or loved one with you and take a list of questions you want to ask.

Questions you might have before treatment:

  • What type of cancer do I have?
  • What stage is it and what does that mean for me?
  • What type of treatment are you recommending and why?
  • What does this treatment involve?
  • What are the possible side effects?
  • Will the treatment affect my ability to have children?
  • How much will the treatment cost? Is it covered by Medicare or my private insurance?
  • Can I drive home after treatment or will I need help?
  • Will I be able to work during treatment?
  • Should I speak to other health care professionals before the treatment starts, such as a nutritionist or counsellor?
  • How will we know if the treatment is working?
  • What is my prognosis and the expected course of my cancer?
  • Are there any clinical trials I can participate in?
  • Are there any symptoms I should report straight away and to whom?

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