How Is Cancer Diagnosed And What Happens When It Is Misdiagnosed?

There are around 1.9 million cases of cancer diagnosed each year in the US, and in 2021, 608k people died as a direct result of cancer. While a cure for cancer is still something scientists are searching for, we are fortunate to have many different treatments available these days, some of which do lead to the patient going into remission and eventually becoming cancer-free.

Cancer can affect many different areas of the body, although some types of cancer are better known than others, such as breast cancer, bowel cancer, and leukemia. Because there are more than 200 types of cancer, different tests are used to diagnose them. The main aim of cancer diagnostic testing is to detect cancer while it is in its early stages. The following tests are commonly used when a patient is suspected of having cancer.

Physical Examination

Before complex diagnostic equipment was invented, a physical exam was the only way of diagnosing a patient. Today, this technique is still the first thing that doctors do, as it is possible to spot some signs of cancer simply by examining the patient. For example, an abnormal-looking mole is a sign of skin cancer, and a lump in the breast indicates breast cancer.

Lab Tests

Once a doctor has carried out a physical exam, he will probably order some lab tests to check for abnormalities. Blood tests are used to check for cancer markers. For example, the CA-125 test looks for a marker associated with ovarian cancer and the PSA test looks for high levels of the PSA marker, a protein made in the prostate gland. A blood count test can be used to detect certain blood cancers and an abnormal level of protein is a red flag. Some tests can even detect the genetic material of cancer cells circulating in the blood. This can help the doctor identify the best treatment for the patient’s type of cancer.

While a blood test is not a definitive diagnosis, it is a useful tool in the diagnostic process.


Imaging testing is very useful in a diagnostic situation. Non-invasive scans are sensitive enough to pick up abnormal masses in the body. CT scans, PET scans, and Ultrasounds provide doctors with detailed images of bones and soft tissue. Scans are often used to see where cancer originated or has spread.

Banner 3


The only definitive way to diagnose cancer is by carrying out a biopsy on the tumor or affected area, such as a lymph node. Here a doctor will remove a small tissue sample and examine them under a microscope, to look for cancerous cells.

In an ideal world, all of these tests would allow a doctor to make an accurate diagnosis and formulate a treatment plan. Unfortunately, sometimes this doesn’t happen and mistakes are made. Up to 20 percent of cancer cases are misdiagnosed. The doctor may think you have a different type of cancer, which delays treatment or fail to diagnose you at all. If this has happened to you, speak to a Chicago wrong diagnosis lawyer.

Cancer needn’t be a death sentence these days. If you are worried about a lump or have symptoms that won’t go away, speak to a doctor as soon as possible. The sooner you get a diagnosis, the earlier you can start treatment.