Solving the Mysteries of Undiagnosed Cancers

Friday, January 31, 2014 - 1:08pm
Assistant Professor of Oncology, Undiagnosed Cancer Clinic, RPCI

Many times at Roswell Park, we know exactly why a patient is in our care. Their disease has been diagnosed and a treatment plan has been established. Sometimes, however, people are referred to RPCI with various symptoms and only a suspicion of cancer. These patients are usually referred to our Undiagnosed Cancer Clinic.

Typically, patients are sent to us through their primary care physicians following symptoms such as unintentional or unexplained weight loss, pronounced physical findings such as lumps or bumps, or loss of appetite. If we detect cancer in a patient, he or she is transferred to their respective department within RPCI where they will receive multidisciplinary care.

At Roswell Park, we typically identify unknown malignancies through a tissue diagnosis. A sample from the affected area is obtained through a needle biopsy via ultrasound or CT guidance and the tissue is sent to our pathology team. Patients remain undiagnosed until we actually receive the tissue diagnosis from pathology.

Depending on what the suspected cancer is, we may refer patients to their most relevant department. For example, if a specific lesion in a patient’s gastrointestinal tract is found, we refer them to the GI department. At that point, an ultrasound or endoscopy will be performed and the ensuing diagnosis is sent to us.

Some cancers are more difficult to identify than others. Hematological malignancies fall into this category due to a lack of identifiable lesions. When dealing with hematological malignancies, we have to perform a very thorough evaluation, typically involving a physical exam, plus lab and blood tests.

If you have an undiagnosed cancer or even a suspicion of cancer, Roswell Park understands how frightening that can be and we're here to help. I would encourage you to reach out to your primary care physician or call 1-877-ASK-RPCI to learn more about our Undiagnosed Cancer Clinic.