16.4 PTC Cancer Life Phases: Diagnosis of Blood (PTLD) Cancers
Every type of cancer is a little bit different in the way that the doctor will diagnose it. A lot of times, doctors will first look at you for visual symptoms. Then, if they notice anything they will do blood or urine tests. They might also do imaging tests like an MRI or CT scan. Sometimes they do a biopsy which is where they take a tiny sample of your tissue to take back to the lab to test for cancer cells. This happens a little bit differently for each type of cancer, but for any procedure that involves significant pain for a biopsy, they will numb you or put you under anesthesia (put you to sleep for the procedure) so that you don’t feel any pain. (anesthesia is not normally used for skin biopsies where simple numbing injections usually suffice)
Once you know what symptoms to LOOK out for, consider cancer tests that allow us to detect cancers that do not have external, easy to see symptoms.
How is it diagnosed clinically?PTLD is usually diagnosed by taking a sample of your tissue. This is called a biopsy. Other tests might also help with diagnosing PTLD like blood tests, scans, and sometimes a bone marrow biopsy of either the little liquid in the bone marrow (this is called bone marrow aspirate) or of the harder marrow tissue (this is called bone marrow trephine). Researchers recommend that you go see your doctor if you are worrying about having possible symptoms because the worry likely won’t go away unless you go see your doctor
What will happen when I go to the doctor about this?
To prepare to go see your doctor, write down your symptoms and a list of all the medicines you are taking. Think about if you want to bring a friend or family member along to be there for you to help you remember these things or to just give you emotional support.
Write down the questions you want to ask your doctor. Your doctor will probably ask you questions like when did you first start having symptoms? How bad are they? Has anyone else in your family had lymphoma?
Your doctor will do a physical exam where they will check for swollen lymph nodes in your neck, underarm, and groin. They will also likely push on your belly to check for a swollen spleen or liver. They may decide that it is best to remove a lymph node and test it to see if lymphoma cells are in there, and if so what kinds they are.
Usually doctors give you a small shot that helps numb the place where they will biopsy. This can pinch a little bit but you shouldn’t feel any pain after that while they do the biopsy. A biopsy is where they will use a hollow needle to remove the little part that they want to get. They might also decide to do this with your bone marrow. This involves them putting a needle into your hipbone to take out some bone marrow and then the lab can look at it and see if it has lymphoma cells. This can sound scary, but doctors are careful to make sure to numb you and be as gentle as they can.
If they think they should, they will do some kind of imaging test like a CT scan, PET scan or an MRI where they use x-ray technologies and get some images of the inside of your body and your kidney. For these they will use a machine. For an MRI and CT scan you will likely go inside of the machine laying down.
It is important for doctors to find out what kind of lymphoma you have, if you have it. Knowing that can help with making the right treatment plan.