Category Archives: Cancer Information

These articles are filled with information about general cancer topics such as prevention and resources.


I recently went to the dermatologist for a full exam. As a bonus, she removed a small lump that I’ve had for years. She numbed the area and in 2 seconds (maybe even less) removed the pea-sized lump, putting in a couple of stitches and a Band-Aid. Then, she labeled the sample and sent it off to the lab.  She assured me that it looked normal, so I shouldn’t worry, but that it was very important to make sure that I get the results. Then she gave me written post-biopsy care instructions.

Other biopsies

I thought about other times in my life when a biopsy has been important.  In the early 1980s, my dad discovered a tumor behind his ear. I still recall hearing my parents talking about it, worrying until the results came back benign.

It was that experience that I remembered when I felt my husband’s hard, enlarged, supraclavicular lymph nodes. Only, I knew more as an adult. It was even scarier.

I was also in the room when they did a biopsy on Dan…and when we got the results.

What is a biopsy?

A biopsy is an examination of tissue removed from a living body to discover the presence, cause, or extent of a disease.  Usually, when we think of biopsies, we think of cancer, but they help doctors diagnose other types of disease, as well. Biopsies tell whether or not a patient is rejecting transplanted organ.

There are many types of biopsies.

I’ve already told you about my skin biopsy. The doctor removed a lump just under the skin, like any other skin biopsy. A circular “punch” blade removed the cylindrical shape sample.

If the lump had been larger or in a difficult to reach place in the body, the doctor would perform a surgical biopsy.

The most common type of biopsy, the needle biopsy, uses a needle to remove the tissue the pathologist will test.

When Dan had his biopsy done, they did a fine needle aspiration biopsy. The doctor used an ultrasound to guide her as she inserted a fine needle into his lymph node and sucked up cells to test. They pulled cells from several lymph nodes. By using this technique, they could avoid going into his lung. They also knew from the positive results that cancer had spread through the lymphatic system.

Sometimes rather than using ultrasound, the doctor will use a CT scan to guide the needle.

Biopsies vary depending on the type of tissue the doctor is collecting.

A bone marrow biopsy- When a doctor suspects a blood cancer such as leukemia or lymphoma, they insert a needle into the pelvis bone to collect the sample,

A liver biopsy- The doctor inserts a needle through the belly to gather the liver tissue.

A kidney biopsy- The doctor inserts the needle through the patient’s back into the kidney.

In a prostate biopsy- Doctors take multiple needle biopsies at a time from the prostate gland via a probe inserted into the rectum.

Some biopsies are more invasive than others.

The doctor can perform a skin biopsy right in the doctor’s office with minimal discomfort during and after the procedure. Dan’s doctor did a fine needle aspiration biopsy a clinic, as well. Sometimes patients go to a hospital for this type of biopsy and take pain medication after the procedure.

After the doctor collects the tissue, he sends it to a pathologist. The pathologist will examine the tissue under a microscope. Most of the time, the pathologist will be able to diagnose the patient’s condition. Sometimes a pathologist will attend the procedure and make a diagnosis immediately. Usually, they will take a week or longer.

It’s never fun, getting a biopsy done, but, it’s the only way to make a definitive cancer diagnosis for most types of cancer.

ABOUT HEATHER ERICKSON

I am an author, writer, and speaker and homeschooling mom of 3. Since my husband, Dan was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer in 2012, I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, despite their illness.

My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com

The Erickson Family, August 2016. Photo By Jim Bovin

The earlier cancer is detected, the more easily and effectively it can be treated. Asymptomatic, or “quiet” cancer often spreads, unchecked to other locations (i.e. metastatic). This is why some forms of cancer have a reputation for being especially deadly.

Some cancers make themselves known early on because of a side effect that sends a patient to the doctor. An example would be esophageal cancer. Because of a tumor on the esophagus, swallowing would become difficult and cause a patient to go to the doctor.

Some cancers that have few or no symptoms until the cancer is already advanced. Because of the asymptomatic presentation of these cancers, they are among the deadliest.:

  • Lung Cancer
  • Kidney Cancer
  • Ovarian Cancer
  • Cancer of the Tail of the Pancreas

Often, the earliest symptoms of cancer are easily dismissed as a run-of-the-mill ache or illness (like indigestion or the flu). It’s not practical, or even safe, to run testing because of every minor symptom. When there are risk factors, however, they shouldn’t be dismissed so quickly.

Our Story

In October of 2012, Dan was a healthy, vibrant man of 51. The day after he helped a friend install a garage door, he had a back ache that he dismissed as a pulled muscle. If he had gone to the doctor, they would have treated him for back strain—and rightly so. He had no risks for lung cancer. He’d never been a smoker. He’d never worked with asbestos. He was asymptomatic—no cough, no problems breathing. It was just a back ache.

The next day, he felt hard, enlarged lymph nodes. The cancer was no longer asymptomatic. But, it was too late. Within 2 weeks, he was diagnosed with stage IV metastatic lung cancer. The back ache was cancer that had spread to his spine.

Early Screenings

Early stage breast and colon cancer are also often asymptomatic. Fortunately, there are screening recommendations that increase the likelihood of discovering cancer. Cancer screening and prevention has led to an overall decline in cancer mortality rates. Primary care doctors are the first line of defense, reminding their patients to get screened at the appropriate time, based on their individual age and risk factors.

The following are guidelines for basic cancer screenings.

Between the ages of 21 and 29

Women should have a PAP screen done every 3 years, even if you’ve been vaccinated against HPV. Any changes in the way your breasts look or feel should also be reported to your doctor.  Men should discuss their risk of colon cancer with their primary care provider.

Between the ages of 30 and 39

Women should have PAP and HPV tests every 5 years even if you’ve been vaccinated against HPV, unless you’ve had a total hysterectomy unrelated to cervical cancer. Any changes in the way your breasts look or feel should also be reported to your doctor.  Men should discuss their risk of colon cancer with their primary care provider.

Between the ages of 40-49

Women should have PAP and HPV tests every 5 years even if you’ve been vaccinated against HPV, unless you’ve had a total hysterectomy unrelated to cervical cancer. Any changes in the way your breasts look or feel should also be reported to your doctor. You may elect to have an annual mammogram. At age 45, yearly mammograms are recommended. Men should discuss their risk of colon and prostate cancer (and screening) with their primary care provider.

Between the ages of 50 and 64

Women should have PAP and HPV tests every 5 years even if you’ve been vaccinated against HPV, unless you’ve had a total hysterectomy unrelated to cervical cancer. Any changes in the way your breasts look or feel should also be reported to your doctor. You may elect to have an annual mammogram. From ages 50-54, yearly mammograms are recommended. At age 55, you can switch to mammograms every 2 years. You should also begin testing for colon cancer at age 50 with a test and frequency recommended by your doctor. Men should discuss their risk of colon and prostate cancer (and screening) with their primary care provider. Both men and women should talk with their doctor about their lung cancer risk and whether low-dose CT scans should be done.

Age 65 and older,

Women with a history of serious cervical pre-cancer should continue testing until 20 years after diagnosis. Any changes in the way your breasts look or feel should also be reported to your doctor. have mammograms every 2 years. Testing for colon cancer is recommended. Men colon cancer testing is recommended. If you are expected to live longer than 10 years, discuss your risk of prostate cancer (and screening) with your primary care provider. Both men and women should talk with their doctor about their lung cancer risk and whether low-dose CT scans should be done, especially if you have a history of smoking.

Your Dentist

Your dentist will also evaluate you for oral and tongue cancers at your annual cleaning and exam.

The asymptomatic nature of many cancers.

The asymptomatic nature of many cancers is the reason so many cancer patients aren’t diagnosed until it’s too late. Men tend to be at greater risk because they put off seeing their doctor.

  • Get regular screenings.
  • Reduce risks by living a healthy lifestyle.
  • Don’t ignore symptoms.
  • Know your family history and tell your doctor.

Check back on April 3rd to read my next A to Z Challenge post: Biopsy. An please share this post on your social media. By doing so, you will raise awareness of asymptomatic cancer. You may even save a life!

ABOUT HEATHER ERICKSON

I am an author, writer, and speaker and homeschooling mom of 3. Since my husband, Dan was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer in 2012, I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness.

My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com

The Erickson Family, August 2016. Photo By Jim Bovin

 

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