Cancer Diagnosis


If cancer is suspected your GP will arrange for tests to confirm a diagnosis. These may include:


A very small amount of tissue, bone, or bone marrow is collected through a needle or surgery. This is sent to a pathology lab where they check for cancer cells under a microscope.

Blood or urine testing

This is done to learn more about the type of cancer and if it could be affecting other parts of the body.


CAT, PET or MRI scans are done to show the presence, location and size of an abnormal mass or tumour.



Depending on the type of cancer, some tests are better suited than others. Other factors such as your age, medical conditions or if you may want to have children in the future might also determine which tests you’re given.

Having a test can be a daunting process so ask a loved one or friend to go with you.

Don’t expect to remember all the questions you have beforehand, or all the answers you’ll be given. As you think of things before your appointment, write them down and make brief notes of the things you feel are most important, or ask your friend or family member to do this for you.

Some questions to ask your GP or specialist:

What will this test tell us?

Are there any risks or side effects?

What will happen during the test?

How should I prepare for it?

When will I get the results?

Will Medicare or my private insurance cover the cost?

How long will it take?

Will I need to have someone drive or help me get home afterwards?

You may find that the process of getting the best possible diagnosis, with all the tests can be quite stressful. It’s not uncommon to be worried or depressed, tired, or have some pain. 

You may also be concerned about digestive, urinary or bowel problems or sexual issues. These are all normal fears but don’t suffer in silence, ask. While this can be difficult, your doctors, specialists, nurses and health care teams are professionals who only want the best outcome for you. So there’s nothing to be embarrassed about.



Sometimes as a cancer progresses or changes you might need more or different tests to see how your body is reacting to both the cancer and the treatment.



Cancer goes through stages and these stages are based on the size of the tumour, and where it is in the body. That is, is it in one place, or has it spread. (metastasized). 

A grade describes the way cancer appears under a microscope. Nearly normal is Grade 1, while Grade 4 is ‘undifferentiated’. In general, higher-grade tumours are more aggressive and carry a worse prognosis. As staging & grading are complex and depend on the individual, you are best to discuss this with your specialist. More information is here.



Diagnosis and treatment of cancer has improved dramatically and for many types of cancer the chances of recovery are good. Survival rates are continually improving with early detection and improved treatment, but they vary widely depending on the type of cancer, age, gender, general health and lifestyle.



Cancer will, without doubt, change your life and affect the lives of your loved ones. When you’re first told that you have cancer, you will probably be in shock. In the space of a minute, your life as you knew it will change. It’s inevitable that you’ll fear the worst and find the news difficult to comprehend. For a while, you’ll be able to think of little else, and often and it will take a while, perhaps weeks, to accept.

There’s no right or wrong way to react. People are different and everyone handles it in their own way. Some people may find themselves in denial while others may simply wonder why it’s happened to them, a question that’s often unanswerable.

While all these feelings are normal, if they persist they can be detrimental to your treatment and recovery. If you’re still experiencing these feelings strongly in the weeks or months after your diagnosis, your doctor might feel it’s best to refer you to a counsellor to help you deal with them.

You may hear the words ‘cancer journey’ a lot and for good reason. A journey suggests travel from one place to another and as you go through your cancer treatment, you’re doing just that. From diagnosis to shock, acceptance, treatment and recovery, these are all steps on your path.

You’ll adopt different ways of coping but there are things you can do to help that strengthen that ability.

• Find and welcome the support of friends and loved ones. There are lots of organisations that provide support for cancer patients and usually you’ll be able to find one near you. Some useful links to support organisations are listed below.

• Learn what you can about your cancer and its treatment.

• Take control over things that are within your control, such as diet and exercise.

• Know what’s important to you and don’t be apologetic for how you feel.

• Try and use your sense of humour.

Fear of death is a common feeling for anyone with a serious disease, particularly in the early stages when you don’t have all the information to hand and you don’t know what to expect. Once your treatment is underway, these feelings often lessen.

Cancer isn’t a death sentence. There are now more than 1 million Australians living who have been diagnosed with cancer and have survived. This is a reflection of how well the disease is being detected and the constant advancements in every sphere of treatment.  



Being hopeful is a positive way of thinking. Having a positive belief that what lies ahead isn’t all bad can help you get through difficult times. While you can’t avoid the realities of a situation, deciding how you approach and deal with them is completely within your control.

Beginning your cancer treatment can be a source of hope for many people. Working through a treatment program with your health care team and making choices that you feel are right for you may also provide a sense of control at a time when many decisions are out of your hands.

You might find being diagnosed with cancer makes re-evaluate your priorities and think of what’s most important in your life. 

Expect that your goals will change, decide who you want to spend more or less time with, think about what you want to fill our days with, and let these thoughts guide you, during and after your treatment. Some changes may be confusing to people around you. Talk to your friends and loved ones about what you’re thinking and feeling and help them understand why you might be feeling differently. 

People with cancer often say it brought them unexpectedly good things. Feelings of appreciating life more and recognising what’s important are common. Finding acceptance and a renewed sense of purpose are also common. Finding your own way to cope, that suits you best, will always work better than trying to follow what someone else tells you.

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