Doctors use many tests to diagnose cancer and determine if it has metastasized (spread). Some tests may also determine which treatments may be the most effective. For most types of cancer, including sarcoma, a biopsy (a procedure in which a small amount of tissue is removed for examination under a microscope) is the only way to make a definitive diagnosis of cancer.
If a biopsy is not possible, the doctor may suggest other tests that will help make a diagnosis. Imaging tests may be used to find out whether the cancer has metastasized. Your doctor may consider these factors when choosing a diagnostic test:
- Age and medical condition
- The type of cancer suspected
- Severity of symptoms
- Previous test results
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There are no standard screening tests for sarcoma. A doctor should examine any unusual or new lumps or bumps that are growing to make sure it is not cancer. Sarcoma is rare. This makes it important to talk with a doctor who has experience with this type of cancer as soon as there is a possibility that it might be sarcoma.
A diagnosis of sarcoma is made by a combination of clinical examination and imaging tests. It is confirmed by the results of a biopsy. In addition to a physical examination, the following tests may be used to diagnose sarcoma:
A benign and malignant tumor may look different on imaging tests, such as an x-ray. In general, a benign tumor has round, smooth, well-defined borders. A malignant tumor has irregular, poorly defined edges due to its aggressive growth.
An x-ray is a picture of the inside of the body. For instance, a chest x-ray can help doctors determine if the cancer has spread to the lungs. Typically, if an x-ray suggests cancer, the doctor will order other imaging tests. X-ray is particularly useful for bone sarcomas.
An ultrasound uses sound waves to create a picture of the internal organs.
Computed tomography (CT or CAT) scan.
A CT scan creates a three-dimensional picture of the inside of the body with an x-ray machine. A computer then combines these images into a detailed, cross-sectional view that shows any abnormalities or tumors. Sometimes, a contrast medium (a special dye) is injected into a patient’s vein to provide better detail.
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