Diagnosis is a strength of Western scientific medicine because of its dependence on analytical procedures and processes of elimination. Modern technology has given us many ways to see into the body for effective diagnosis of dis-ease. Nowhere is scientific Western medicine so advanced than in the fields of diagnosis. Although the philosophy of Western medicine often comes in for criticism, modern science has produced many ways in which we can examine and image organisms internally and take samples of tissue in hard to reach places.
A qualified doctor should always be the first point of contact for serious disease as they have a good chance of getting you a correct diagnosis. Self-diagnosis is not a good idea except for very minor ailments. If you can, always get a second opinion on any diagnosis. In the UK you are urged to start orthodox cancer treatments within a month of diagnosis.
Diagnosis for cancer uses careful clinical assessment and advanced investigative techniques such as:
endoscopy: an endoscope is a tube-like viewing instrument with lenses and lights or video cameras that is inserted into a body orifice for investigating and treating disorders. If gives doctors the ability to see inside the body and even remove small pieces of tissue for examination (biopsy).
imaging: This process allows doctors to produce images of structures within the body that are otherwise difficult to see. For example short-wave, electromagnetic waves such as X-rays are passed through the body. Some are absorbed and others pass through the tissues to produce a shadow image that is projected onto a film or screen. In x-ray images the bones show up clearly, making it an excellent tool for seeing problems associated with bones or hard objects within the body.
In the 1920’s radiologists discovered that certain substances are opaque to radiation and they began to use them as ‘contrast media’. When these media are introduced into the body they create an outline shape of the cavities they fill, which helps to identify problem areas.
Ultrasound scanning projects high-frequency sound waves through the body, using a transducer against the skin. The waves are reflected back and the pattern of echoes produces an image. Computers are used to create better images. C.T. scanning (Computed Tomography) takes x-rays from different angles and uses the computer to create cross sections or three-dimensional images.
M.R.I. (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) places the patient in a strong magnetic field that passes waves through the body. The computer creates an image by analysing changes in the magnetic alignment of the hydrogen protons in our cells. P.E.T. scanning (Positron Emission Tomography) introduces short-lived radio isotopes into body tissues that are then flooded with gamma rays, recorded and then analysed by computer to produce images.
cytology and histology: Cytology is concerned with the examination of individual cells. The main application in cancer is in the detection of abnormal cells. Histology or hystopathology looks at groups of cells.
laboratory studies: Scientific methodology gives us many ways to analyse and examine bodily extracts.
What follows initial diagnosis means identifying appropriate treatments, forecasting the probable course and outcome of the disease (prognostication) and standardising the design of research and treatment protocols. You may be given the option to take part in a clinical study to help assess the effectiveness of a new treatment. Some health centres and surgeries are offered payoffs for enrolling patients in clinical trials which are often ongoing ‘action research’.
There are four main types of treatment in conventional cancer treatment:
surgery: this offers the best chance when the cancer is contained to a single area and has a low tendency to spread
radiotherapy: invented over 100 years ago, this treatment bombards specific areas of the body with gamma rays.
chemotherapy: uses chemical cocktails that suppress the growth cycles of all cells in the body.
biological therapy: This treatment uses B.R.M.’s (Biological Response Modifiers) such as Interferon or Interleukin-2 to modify biological systems.
Taking these treatments is no guarantee that the cancer will not return. They do not involve looking for or eliminating any causes. To this extent orthodox Western medical approaches to cancer are only palliative.