Diagnostic Tests to Find Cancer

A medical screening increases the probability of detecting certain cancers early, which is when they are most curable. Below are the types of tests done to find and diagnose cancer.

Cancer Blood Tests

Except for leukemia, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and other blood cancers, blood tests generally cannot determine whether you have cancer or some other condition. However, they can provide your doctor with clues about what is happening inside your body.

The types of cancer blood tests are:

  • Complete blood count (CBC). This common blood test measures the different types of blood cells in a sample of your blood. It evaluates your overall health and detects a wide range of disorders, such as anemia, infection, and leukemia.
  • Blood protein testing. This test examines various proteins in your blood and can assist in detecting specific abnormal immune system proteins (immunoglobulins) that, in some cases, are elevated in people with multiple myeloma.

Imaging Tests or Radiology

Your doctor may use imaging tests to produce pictures of your internal body. Imaging tests are beneficial in several ways. They play a role in looking for cancer, finding out how far cancer has spread, and determining if cancer treatment is working.

The types of imaging tests are:

  • Computed tomography (CT or CAT) scan. A CT scan shows a cross-section of the body. The image it produces shows your bones, organs, and soft tissues a lot more clearly than standard x-rays. CT scans can also reveal a tumor’s size, shape, and location, as well as show the blood vessels that feed the cancer without needing to cut into the patient.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan. An MRI scan is excellent at locating and pinpointing some cancers. This test, along with the use of contrast dye, is the best way to detect brain and spinal cord tumors. MRI utilizes strong magnets to produce the images — not radiation.
  • X-rays and other radiographic tests. Radiographs, otherwise called x-rays, make shadow-like pictures of bones and certain bodily organs and tissues. X-rays are especially useful for finding bone problems, but CT and MRI scans often produce better pictures of them.
  • Ultrasound. An ultrasound machine generates images known as sonograms by releasing high-frequency sound waves that go through the body. As the sound waves bounce tissues and organs, they create echoes.
  • Mammograms. A mammogram is a specific type of x-ray that looks for changes that may signal breast cancer.
  • Nuclear medicine scans. Nuclear scans create pictures based on your body’s chemistry rather than on physical shapes and forms. If cancer is present, the tumor may reveal itself on the image as a “hot spot.”

Endoscopy Procedures

Endoscopy is a specialized medical procedure in which a doctor inserts a tube-like instrument into the body to make well-defined examinations.

The types of endoscopy procedures are:

  • Bronchoscopy. Bronchoscopy is a procedure where your doctor will look inside the lungs with a bronchoscope. This device is a thin, flexible tube with a light and a small video camera at the end. Your doctor will put this tube through your mouth or nose, down your throat, into your windpipe (trachea), and the airways (bronchi and bronchioles) of your lungs.
  • Colonoscopy. The purpose of a colonoscopy is to view the inside of the colon and rectum with a colonoscope. This long, flexible tube about the width of a finger is also complete with a light and small video camera at the end. It is inserted through the anus and into the rectum and colon.
  • Cystoscopy. A cystoscopy is a procedure in which your doctor looks at the inside of the bladder and urethra (the tubing that connects your bladder to the outside of your body). The tube is inserted through your urethra.
  • Laparoscopy. A small incision made through the abdominal wall near the navel (belly button) allows a laparoscope to enter and examine the inside of your abdomen (belly) and pelvis.
  • Laryngoscopy. In a laryngoscopy procedure, your doctor assesses the larynx (voice box), which includes the vocal cords and other nearby structures like the back of the throat.
  • Mediastinoscopy. Mediastinoscopy is a procedure that analyzes the inside of the mediastinum — the area behind the breastbone and between the lungs. A mediastinoscope is placed through a small incision made just above the breastbone and gently moved into the mediastinum.
  • Thoracoscopy. Your doctor can conduct a thoracoscopy procedure with a thoracoscope, which he or she can insert through a small cut made near the bottom end of your shoulder blade between the ribs.
  • Upper endoscopy. In an upper endoscopy, your doctor will review the inner lining of the upper digestive tract, including the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum—all of which are the first part of the small intestine. The tube is put in through your mouth, traveling down your throat and into your esophagus, stomach, and small intestine.


A biopsy is a medical procedure that removes a piece of tissue or sample cells from your body, allowing for closer analysis in a laboratory. While imaging tests help identify tumors or areas of abnormality, they alone cannot distinguish malignant (cancerous) cells from benign (noncancerous) cells. For several cancer types, the only way to make a definitive diagnosis is to conduct a biopsy to collect cells for an in-depth examination.

How doctors collect sample tissues depends on where your tumor is and what type of cancer you may have. For example, the methods used when performing skin biopsies are different from those used when conducting brain biopsies. Some types of biopsies may require a skilled surgeon to remove an entire organ, whereas other less invasive types of biopsies remove tumor samples with the use of a thin needle or through an endoscope.

What You Need to Do If You Suspect Cancer

Diagnosing cancer during its early stages often provides the best opportunity for a cure. With this in mind, discuss with your doctor what types of cancer screening may be most appropriate for you. And if you receive a cancer diagnosis, call New Hope Unlimited now at 480-757-6573 to learn about your treatment options. With our comprehensive care and alternative cancer therapies, it is never too late to beat your disease.

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