To determine if you have cancer, your doctor will take a detailed history, physical examination, laboratory tests and imaging studies. Your doctor will ask questions about your general health, family history, medications you may be taking and your work history (environmental exposure to carcinogens, etc.). You will be asked about symptoms that may lead to a diagnosis of cancer, such as unexplained weight loss, fatigue, night sweats, cough, persistent pain or blood found in urine, vomit or after bowel movements. Tell your doctor if you have a painless ulcer on your skin that or in your mouth, especially if it does not heal.
As part of the physical examination, your doctor will pay special attention to the lymph nodes (under the arms, in the neck, etc.), the skin, the lungs, the breasts, the genitals, and the prostate (for men).
Any suspicious growths that may be potential tumors can be removed (using an excisional or incisional biopsy). Or, the tumors can be sampled (using a fine needle aspiration biopsy). The tumor or sample is sent to a laboratory for identification.
A biopsy also can be obtained through a procedure known as endoscopy. A tiny camera is used to view a suspicious lesion. Also, blood tests can be helpful in determining the extent or stage of certain cancers. Imaging studies (like MRIs, X-rays, bone scans, or ultrasound) often can determine the location and other characteristics of a tumor.