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NCCN Guidelines for Patients


Adolescents and Young Adults with Cancer, Version 1.2017

Understanding your tests


Part 2 is a guide to common diagnostic

tests and procedures and what the results


How is cancer diagnosed?

Getting diagnosed with cancer is a process. It starts

when you or your doctor notices something abnormal

that wasn’t there before:


a lump that can be felt


a mole that changes shape or color


a pain that can’t be explained

Your doctor will usually begin with asking you

questions. He or she will then do some testing in

order to get the most information about what is

happening in your body. Very often your doctor will

send you to a specialist who is more experienced in

diagnosing and treating the type of cancer you have.

Cancer doctors who specialize in treating cancer are

called oncologists.

Medical history and physical exam

Details about your medical history and an exam of

your body are two of the most basic tools of diagnosis.


A medical history is just what it sounds like—a

history of everything that has ever happened

to you health-wise.

Your doctor will:


Gather information about any health events

that have happened in your life, including

surgeries, accidents, and past illnesses.


Find out about current problems and any

medications you are taking.

It may help to make a list before you

go to your appointment to make sure

you don’t forget anything.


Ask about the medical history of your family

to check for disease such as cancer, heart

disease, or diabetes.

When the doctor checks your body for signs of

disease, it is called a physical exam. Doctors often

perform a physical exam along with taking a medical



Dealing with the


16 How is cancer diagnosed?

20 What do the test results mean?

21 What are my options?

22 Review