If you have symptoms that may signal appendix cancer, your doctor will examine you and ask you questions about your health, lifestyle and family medical history. However, appendix cancer often does not have symptoms in the early stages. In these instances, appendix cancer may be discovered during abdominal surgery for another condition, like acute appendicitis, or during tests like a CT scan for another condition.
If your doctor suspects or discovers cancer, one or more of the following tests may be used to diagnose appendix cancer and determine if it has spread. These tests also may be used to find out if treatment is working.
Blood tests: Blood tests cannot definitively diagnose appendix cancer, but they can help doctors understand what is happening in the body. Blood tests can also be used to rule out other conditions, such as infection. Additionally, certain types of blood tests can detect proteins produced by cancer cells, called tumor markers. Tumor markers may indicate the presence of cancer. This information can help doctors decide what other diagnostic tests are needed.
Biopsy: If someone has symptoms of appendix cancer, or if doctors find a tumor while performing abdominal surgery for another condition, they may remove a small sample of tissue (a biopsy) from the appendix to undergo further testing. Looking at the tissue under a microscope allows doctors to determine if cancer cells are present.
Sometimes, appendix cancer is diagnosed after an appendectomy (the surgical removal of the appendix). If a patient has symptoms of acute appendicitis, the doctor may perform a minimally invasive procedure, such as a laparoscopic appendectomy, to remove the appendix. The appendix tissue can then be examined by a specialist. If tumor cells are found, doctors may perform additional surgery to take a biopsy of the surrounding intestines. This can help determine if the cancer has spread.
Imaging tests: These tests can be paired with other lab tests to help confirm a diagnosis. Additionally, imaging tests may be used to determine if the cancer has spread and to track the spread over time. Imaging tests may include:
- CT scan or CAT (computer axial tomography) scan: A CT scan creates detailed, 3D cross-sectional images of various parts of the body. In some cases, appendix cancer is found during a CT scan for another condition. Doctors may use the scan to measure the size of appendix tumors and to see if the cancer has spread to other organs, like the intestines.
- MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans: Using strong magnets and radio waves, an MRI scan creates a detailed, static image of the body. This helps doctors visualize the presence, size and spread of tumors.
If you are diagnosed with appendix cancer, your doctor will determine the stage of the disease.
Staging is a way of classifying cancer by how much disease is in the body and where it has spread when it is diagnosed. This helps the doctor plan the best way to treat the cancer.
Once the staging classification is determined, it stays the same even if treatment is successful or the cancer spreads.
(source: National Cancer Institute)
Localized: Cancer is limited to the place where it started, with no sign that it has spread.
Regional: Cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes, tissues, or organs.
Metastatic: Cancer has spread to distant parts of the body.
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