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Cancer Treatment Centers of America

Undiagnosed cancer


What do you do if you think you have cancer? Your doctor has found something suspicious on an X-ray, CT scan or other imaging test. Still, your condition remains undiagnosed. Dealing with the uncertainty may be stressful and unsettling. Do you have cancer? What do you do next? Finding an expert to diagnose your condition quickly and accurately is important to your peace of mind and, perhaps, your future treatment options. At Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA), we know how important it is to deliver an accurate diagnosis as quickly as possible.

Our oncologists and other clinicians will begin working with you even before your first visit. They will gather your medical records and work to get you in for an appointment quickly. Then, on your initial visit, you will meet with a team that will determine a recommended diagnostic plan and deliver it with speed, efficiency and convenience in mind. A biopsy may be required to confirm a cancer diagnosis. Tests like imaging scans or blood tests may also be recommended. Our team of pathologists will review your case quickly to get you an answer in a timely manner—sometimes, in just a few days.

The oncologists and other clinicians at our five hospitals treat every stage of cancer and have developed an expertise that comes with working exclusively with cancer patients. If the tests reveal that your mass is benign, our surgical team may be able to offer various options to remove it. If you are diagnosed with cancer, a medical oncologist will meet with other members of your care team, including perhaps a surgical oncologist and/or radiation oncologist, depending on your cancer type and stage, to recommend a treatment plan tailored to you and your needs. As part of our integrative care model, you may also meet with a dietitian, naturopathic provider, mind-body therapist or other supportive care provider to help you manage cancer-related side effects and maintain your strength during treatment.

If you think you have cancer, here are some steps you should take, facts you should know and questions you should ask your doctor:

What should you do?

"The standard advice is to call your doctor," says Dr. David Boyd, Director of Wellness, Prevention & Primary Care at our hospital near Phoenix. "The most important thing is getting a diagnosis in a timely manner." Also consider what may be leading you to believe you may have cancer. The list of potential symptoms and signs of cancer is lengthy. And many symptoms, such as pain, weight loss or fatigue, may be caused by anything from arthritis to the Zika virus. But Dr. Boyd offers this caveat: “The majority of times, cancer has no symptoms whatsoever. A big part of it is communication. They should get down to the nitty-gritty and go through their findings with their doctor and get a better idea of what the situation is."

What should you ask?

Many patients have a long list of questions when they think they may have cancer. What's next: Biopsies? Imaging? What will treatment look like? What is my prognosis? Use the information you uncover through a Google search to develop questions for your doctor. "I like the idea of someone being proactive and taking responsibility for their own health," Dr. Boyd says.  

Also consider asking two additional questions:

How could I have reduced my risk of cancer? "The staggering reality is that many cancers may be avoided by making certain choices we already know are better for us," Dr. Boyd says. Quit smoking. Lose weight. Eat better. Reduce the stress in your life. Then, he says, if it turns out that you don't have cancer, the health scare may inspire you to make the lifestyle changes that may help you reduce your risk of developing the disease in the future. "It makes folks a bit more aware and appreciate good health when they have it," he says.

How do I enjoy my life? If you eventually are diagnosed with cancer, prepare yourself for a tough fight. "It's not just battling the disease," Dr. Boyd says. "It's maintaining and improving quality of life during the fight." Managing symptoms and maintaining strength are keys to helping patients accept a diagnosis and make the best of their life, "hopefully for a long time," he says.

What should you know?

Don't spend time worried about what ifs, Dr. Boyd says. Instead, patients should focus on what may be on the horizon. "No matter what, the more positive you are, the better you will do," he says. "And I think the reason for that is that patients are not working against themselves."