Cancer can produce a range of symptoms. An accurate diagnosis, especially an early one, is vital for treating cancer. If you begin to experience cancer symptoms or irregular body behavior, notify your primary physician right away. It’s also a good idea to share your personal and family medical history with your physician and schedule annual wellness exams to monitor your physical health.

Common Cancer Symptoms

Skin Changes (e.g. New Mole, Lingering Sore)
Breast Changes (e.g. Size, Shape, Texture, Lump)
Changes in Bowel Habits (e.g. Blood in Stool)
Difficult or Painful Urination
Discomfort after Eating or a Change in Appetite
Coughing Up Blood
Chronic Pain in Bones
Abnormal Lump

Abdominal Pain
Unusual Night Sweats
Abnormal Bleeding or Discharge
Increasing Weakness or Fatigue
Unexplained Weight Loss or Gain
Persistent Headaches
Persistent Low-Grade Fevers

These symptoms might not always be caused by cancer; they can also result from benign tumors or other physical problems. If they persist, you should promptly seek your physician’s advice. Don’t wait for pain to accompany possible cancer symptoms; early cancer may not often cause discomfort.

Should your physician identify symptoms commonly associated with cancer, he or she may recommend additional testing. Commonly known as diagnostic testing, this includes lab tests, imaging procedures and biopsies.

Diagnostic testing is used to reveal the presence of cancer and identify how advanced it is, a process known as cancer staging.

Lab Tests

High or low levels of certain substances known as tumor markers in your body can indicate cancer. To aid diagnosis, lab tests of blood, urine or other body fluids measure for these tumor markers. Regular lab tests can also indicate the progress of disease and be followed for assessment.

Note that abnormal lab test results do not always imply cancer. Lab tests are a supporting tool for cancer diagnosis, but physicians cannot rely on them alone.

Imaging Procedures

When requested or needed, imaging helps identify any abnormal masses within the body. Different imaging procedures include:

  • computerized tomography (CT) scan an x-ray machine linked to a computer takes detailed pictures of the organs
  • nuclear scan a small injection of radioactive material collects in certain bones and organs; a scanner then detects and measures the radioactivity and creates images
  • ultrasound a device sends inaudible sound waves that bounce off of tissues in the body like an echo; a computer uses these echoes to form a picture of areas in the body
  • magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) a magnet linked to a computer makes detailed images of areas in the body
  • positron emission tomography (PET) a tracer is injected into the body and a machine makes 3-D images that show where the tracer collects
  • x-rays (including mammography) – low doses of radiation create pictures of the inside of the body


A biopsy involves removing a small piece of tissue for a pathologist to examine for cancer cells. Different biopsies include:

  • endoscopic tissue is removed through an endoscope and a tube is used to look inside the digestive tract
  • excisional the entire tumor is surgically removed, sometimes with some normal tissue around it
  • incisional only a part of the tumor is surgically removed
  • fine needle aspiration fluid or tissue is removed with a tiny needle
  • sentinel lymph node a safe, radioactive dye helps locate the sentinel lymph node so it can be surgically removed
  • stereotactic breast computer-generated images pinpoint breast abnormalities and tissue is extracted with a tiny needle
  • surgical breast all or part of a tumor is removed

Radiation Therapy Center at Riverwest

If a cancer diagnosis determines radiation oncology is an appropriate next step for you, our compassionate care team is here to treat, serve and support your cancer journey. Contact us at (630) 264-8580 to speak with one of our professionals or schedule a consultation.