Diagnosing cancer

Know the tests for diagnosing cancer

By Brandie Umar, Executive Director of ContentLast modified: October 05, 2011

Diagnosing Cancer

There are more than 200 types of recognized cancer and more strains of the disease are diagnosed frequently. As cancer cells can develop in and affect any part of the body, no one test in conclusive in diagnosing all types of cancer. If you are experiencing symptoms that suggest cancer may be present, oncologists will run a series of tests before making a diagnosis. Screening for cancer may include blood tests, a cell biopsy, or slightly more invasive tests such as a tumor biopsy.


CBC - CBC is a complete blood count and is an in depth blood test that checks the blood cells. There are many different types of cells present in healthy blood. CBC tests measure how many of each cell is present in a sample of blood.


Bone marrow aspiration - Cancer cells can spread to the marrow inside bones.Bone marrow aspiration involves oncologists suctioning a bone marrow sample and checking whether abnormal cells are present.


Ultrasound - Cancerous tumors can often be detected by a simple ultrasound procedure, where the affected are is scanned using high frequency sound waves to create an image of the internal organ.


Lymphangiogram - Placing a dye into the lymph glands, oncologists can detect abnormalities in the glands where cancer may be present. 


Biopsy - If a tumor  is identified on an X-ray or ultrasound, a biopsy may be recommended to allow the tumor to be tested. A partial biopsy removes a section of the tumor, while a complete biopsy removes the tumor in its entirety.


CT scan -  Using computer imagery, oncologists can scan the whole body and detect any abnormalities


If cancer is identified, further tests will be required to determine the stage of the cancer development. These tests will be specific to the type of cancer identified. 


It is recommended that everyone undergoes regular cancer screening processes. For women these include screening processes such as a mammogram to scan the breast tissue and detect early signs of breast cancer, or a Pap smear to detect abnormalities in the cervix. For men, regular self-screening of the testicles can help detect testicular cancer early. For information about the procedures for cancer screening, contact an oncologist. 

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