How cancer is diagnosed

Diagnostic evaluations

How cancer is diagnosed

This page was reviewed under our medical and editorial policy by Maurie Markman, MD, President, Medicine & Science at CTCA.

What is diagnostic testing?

Additional diagnostic testing is required if you have cancer symptoms or if a screening test reveals suspicious results. Cancer can be difficult to diagnose without first ruling out other possible causes. There is no single test that can be used to diagnose cancer, so your doctor will likely order additional diagnostics after learning about your medical history and conducting a physical exam.

If a suspicious area or tumor is detected, the only way to confirm a cancer diagnosis is through a biopsy, which involves taking a tissue or fluid sample.

What is diagnostic testing?

In order to confirm the presence of disease and determine the correct tumour type, location, extent, and stage, diagnostic testing is performed. At Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA), we use cutting-edge diagnostic tools to precisely localise and assess tumours so that we can craft individualised treatment plans for each patient. To better equip our clinicians and inform medical diagnoses, we employ a wide range of technologies and medical devices.

Experienced care team

Our diagnostic team includes physicians across many medical specialties, including radiologists and pathologists. They have years of training and expertise in using advanced, minimally invasive diagnostic tests and procedures to diagnose cancer.

Cancer diagnostics at CTCA

The first step in creating a personalised cancer treatment plan is obtaining a precise diagnosis. To better keep tabs on patients and facilitate a streamlined decision-making process, our care team works together under one roof, sharing electronic medical records and coordinating efforts.

Diagnostic tests we perform may include:

How we test for cancer

Different types of cancer, different stages of the disease, and different patient circumstances call for different diagnostic tests and procedures. There are four main types of diagnostic studies:

Diagnostic imaging tests

Depending on where the cancer is located in the body, different imaging techniques can be used to diagnose it. Cancer of the throat or oesophagus can sometimes be detected with a barium swallow or enema. A barium solution is taken orally, and then X-rays are taken, to perform this procedure. A barium enema can also be administered to allow for visualisation of the rectum and colon. Before taking X-rays, your doctor will administer the solution through a small tube.

Bone scan: To help detect cancer that has spread to the bone, a small amount of radioactive dye may be injected intravenously before nuclear imaging is used to examine the bone on a cellular level for cancerous changes.

One of the most common diagnostic imaging procedures for cancer detection is the computed tomography (CT) scan. The precise images provided by CT scans aid in the detection and localization of cancer.

Bone mineral density can be measured with a DEXA (dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry) scan, which doctors use to assess the health of your bones.

MRI, or magnetic resonance imaging, is a diagnostic procedure that uses radiofrequency waves to create images of your body’s organs. The diagnostic team can use MRI scans to better spot cancerous tissue.

Mammography: Mammograms, a type of breast cancer screening, use low-dose X-rays to create images of breast tissue, allowing your doctor to spot any irregularities.

Nuclear medicine imaging: A camera captures high-resolution images of the body after a small amount of radioactive dye is ingested, injected, or breathed in. Cancers of the brain, breast, bladder, kidney, thyroid, liver, lung, and bone can all be detected with this imaging technique.

Ultrasound: Frequently used to help detect cancer, ultrasounds use high-frequency sound waves to produce images of your internal organs. These tests allow your doctor to view the inside of your body in real time, capturing organ movement and function.

X-ray: This imaging test is used on multiple areas of the body in order to help detect, stage and treat cancer. X-rays use high-energy electromagnetic radiation to produce images.

Diagnostic procedures

These tests are used to help detect cancer by analyzing a tissue or blood sample.

Anoscopy: To check for abnormalities of the rectum or to take a biopsy, an anoscopy may be performed. A tool called an anoscope is used to view the rectum and anus to help detect cancer.

Biopsy: Your doctor may remove a tissue or fluid sample to test it for cancerous cells. Biopsies are the only way to know for sure if you have cancer..

Bronchoscopy: To help detect cancers of the lung or esophagus, a thin instrument with a lighted camera is inserted through the nose or mouth to look for abnormal areas and/or collect a biopsy.

Colonoscopy: Cancer of the colon and/or rectum is often detected through a colonoscopy. During the test, your doctor will insert a thin, lighted tube called a colonoscope into your colon, and any suspicious growths will be removed and analyzed.

Lumbar puncture: Also known as a spinal tap, this procedure is used to collect a sample of your cerebrospinal fluid in order to help detect cancers of the brain, spine or leukemia.

Pap test: A screening test used to detect cervical cancer, the Pap test allows your doctor to collect a sample of cervical cells to be examined microscopically in a laboratory..

Laboratory and blood tests

Lab tests to examine blood, urine and other fluid samples may be used to look for tumor markers or abnormal cells indicative of cancer.

CellSearchTM Circulating Tumor Cell (CTC) Test: This diagnostic blood test detects circulating tumor cells (cells from a cancerous tumor that have entered the bloodstream) in order to help doctors monitor metastatic breast, prostate and colorectal cancers.

Works Cited

“How Is Cancer Diagnosed: Methods to Test and Detect Cancer.” Cancer Treatment Centers of America, 29 Apr. 2022,


0 Comments Write a comment

Leave a comment