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Unusual Lump Needs Investigation

A growth or tumor may not look like a cancer with the naked eye or x-ray, but the only way to know for sure is to biopsy the suspicious lesion or remove fluid from the cyst and have a pathologist review it under the microscope, no matter what the health care professional says.

Fear of a cancer diagnosis may lead to a person to delay having a mammogram, colonoscopy or a suspicious mole removed and biopsied. However, many benign conditions requiring no treatment are frequently the outcome.

Benign Or Cancer ?

A mole, cyst, nodule, growth or fluid may look normal on the surface, but could have precancerous or cancerous features, once viewed by a trained eye under the microscope. The piece of tissue removed goes to the pathology department, usually in a hospital or clinic, where it is divided up in small portions and spread on microscope slides to view under the microscope, magnified many times to be able to observe the specimen at a cellular level. The pathologist is the specialty physician reviewing the slides and making a diagnosis based on years of training. Since the diagnosis is only as good as the specimen obtained, you may have heard of someone needing a repeat biopsy, because there was not enough tissue to provide a definite result.

Preliminary Vs Final Pathology Report

Depending on the body location of the specimen and suspicion of cancer, a preliminary report may be issued. Some special studies, involving staining the slides with specific substances, and taking more than 24 -72 hours to complete might be required to verify the diagnosis. The longer it takes does not mean the worse the diagnosis, it just takes time. The Final Pathology Report is provided to the healthcare professional obtaining the specimen and that professional is responsible for contacting the patient with results in a timely fashion, ideally in person at a follow up office visit. Contact the doctor to be sure you know and understand the results.

If the specimen is indeed cancer, the pathologist determines:

  • the primary anatomical location of the tumor (where the tumor growth started)
  • the grade of the tumor (how fast it divides and spreads)
  • differentiation of the tumor (how organized the cells are)
  • the stage of the tumor (if it is confined to the organ it started in or has spread)
  • the need for additional studies on the tissues, including tumor markers

In addition to the above, let’s say it is a new lung cancer diagnosis, other imaging studies such as a bone scan, brain scan and abdominal CT scan may be needed to determine if the cancer has spread outside the lung. The person will be referred to an oncologist (cancer specialist) who needs the pathology report in order to know which studies to order and what treatment is necessary and in what order. 

Although an unusual lump may be one of the seven warning signs of cancer, that doesn’t have to be the diagnosis. Notifying your healthcare professional makes for the wisest choice.

Thank you to our friends at Haibeck and Associates Legal Nurse Consulting for the above blog.