What's the word when doctors, whilst treating or investigating one condition, stumble across another? For example patient has a heart attack and during treatment it is discovered he has cancer.

4 Answers 4


"an incidental finding"

  • Incidental findings are previously undiagnosed medical or psychiatric conditions that are discovered unintentionally and are unrelated to the current medical or psychiatric condition which is being treated or for which tests are being performed.
  • 1
    Wouldn't that suggest that the further condition which was discovered was not serious?
    – WS2
    Commented Nov 8, 2016 at 0:32
  • 2
    @WS2 I recognize it can be misleading to the layman. But that's what it is. "we ordered a CT scan to assess his sinus infection and there it was: a brain tumor. It was really an incidental finding."
    – Centaurus
    Commented Nov 8, 2016 at 0:42

My GP (general practitioner; family doctor) mentioned the following today:


A mass or lesion noted during examination performed for other reasons.

It is common medical slang in imaging and radiology for when the patient complains of, say, an abdominal problem but during imaging a little spot is noticed outside of the abdomen.

  • 1
    This would be a great answer if you linked a reputable source.
    – Davo
    Commented Jun 7, 2019 at 17:47
  • @Davo How's that?
    – Mitch
    Commented Jun 7, 2019 at 21:06

Incidental finding is the term used when you are looking for answer to one cause (finding) but during course of investigation you may find another, unrelated, finding on one of the tests. Think of Incidental finding as an Accidental finding, something that was not known before and now has come to light.

Underlying condition: is a condition that has already been diagnosed (investigated and concluded) Example, when you go in for a procedure, you have a general exam. When you find nothing then you say “there are no underlying conditions” However the following is also true, when a person has preexisting diagnosis and the patient present with another related or unrelated complain, which is somehow effected by the preexisting diagnosis then we say patient presented with x which was made worse with y underlying condition or y underlying condition lead to X happening.


May I suggest an underlying condition as in, "The patient was relived to learn that she was free to undergo her elective plastic surgery as no underlying conditions were discovered during the pre-op tests the hospital carried out to determine her fitness for surgery",

underlying condition: "Real but not immediately obvious." (dictionary.cambridge.org)

  • Would the down-voter kindly explain what it is that he/she finds objectionable to my suggested answer of 'underlying condition'. I think we should be told. Commented Nov 8, 2016 at 5:34
  • I wasn't the voter, but the problem is you are incorrect. "Underlying causes" refers to a case where the cause is obscured below more superficial symptoms that are related.
    – The Nate
    Commented Nov 8, 2016 at 7:06
  • @TheNate With respect, I never stated underlying "causes" [sic]. I stated underlying "conditions". Evidently you misread my answer. These things happen, I suppose. Commented Nov 8, 2016 at 9:32
  • You don't find an "underlying condition" of an asymptomatic patient as you're describing, either.
    – The Nate
    Commented Nov 8, 2016 at 16:25
  • @TheNate We know that OP's patient is not asymptomatic; he has been diagnosed with a heart condition. During medical investigation/treatment another, unrelated condition comes to light. It is underlying. Likewise, in my example, the underlying condition discovered is not a "cause" of the scheduled surgery, merely underlying. My patient scheduled for surgery who has to be cleared for that procedure by undergoing pre-op tests to see if he's up to surgery, anesthesia, etc. Any asymptomatic condition thus found is an underlying condition, one to be taken into consideration vis-a-vis the surgery. Commented Nov 8, 2016 at 19:35

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