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Diagnostic Procedures for Cancer: OverviewProcedimientos para el Diagnóstico del Cáncer: Una Visión General

Diagnostic Procedures for Cancer: Overview

What are diagnostic procedures for cancer?

When symptoms suggest cancer, your doctor may request or perform any of the following procedures to help diagnose it:

  • A detailed medical history--family and personal

  • Thorough physical exam

  • Pelvic exam of the uterus, vagina, ovaries, bladder, and rectum (women only)

  • Pap test at the time of pelvic exam (women only)

  • Rectal exam of the prostate and rectum (men only)

Other diagnostic procedures that may be requested include:

  • Imaging tests, such as:

    • X-ray

    • Computed tomography (CT or CAT scan). A noninvasive diagnostic imaging procedure that uses a combination of X-ray and computer technology to produce detailed  images (often called slices) of the body. The CT scan may  show tumors or indicate enlarged lymph nodes--a possible sign of a spreading cancer or of an infection. 

    • Radionuclide or nuclear medicine scan. An imaging scan in which a small amount of radioactive substance is injected into the vein. A machine measures levels of radioactivity in certain tissues or organs, thereby detecting any abnormal areas or tumors. Some examples are bone scans, PET scans, thyroid scans, and gallium scans.

    • Ultrasound. An imaging technique that uses high-frequency sound waves to produce an image on a monitor of the abdominal organs, such as the uterus, liver, and kidneys.

    • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). A noninvasive procedure that produces detailed views of an internal organ or structure, especially the brain and spinal cord, without the use of X-rays. The MRI may show abnormal nodules in bones or lymph nodes--a sign that cancer may be spreading.

  • Endoscopy. Use of a flexible tube with a lens or tiny camera (and a light on the end), which is connected to a computer screen, allowing the doctor to see inside the hollow organs, such as the esophagus, stomach, intestines, bladder, or uterus. Biopsy samples (tiny pieces of tissue) can be taken through the tube for further evaluation.

  • Lab tests. These are done to examine blood, urine, other fluids, or tumor tissue from a biopsy.

  • Biopsy. This is done to remove a sample of the suspicious tissue for examination in a lab by a pathologist. Biopsy can be done with several different  procedures depending on the location of the tumor and size. Endoscopy, needle biopsy with image guidance, and surgical biopsy are a few examples.

For most types of cancer, exams and imaging tests might suggest a person has cancer, but a biopsy is usually needed to be sure of the diagnosis.

Once the cancer is diagnosed, an evaluation will be made to determine the extent (stage) of the cancer. This is often done with some of the imaging tests described above.

 
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  Fish, Exercise May Help Thwart Colon Cancer's Return: Study
  Medicaid Patients Get Worse Cancer Care, Studies Contend
  Half a Million Cancers Prevented by Colon Screenings: Study
  Many Childhood Leukemia Survivors Aren't Taking 'Maintenance' Meds: Study
  Sophisticated Chest Scans May Raise Children's Lifetime Cancer Risk
  Many Women With Breast Cancer Get Too Little Exercise
  Are You Eating Enough 'Powerhouse' Vegetables?
  No Drop in Smokeless Tobacco Use Among U.S. Workers: CDC
  Breast Cancer Drug Herceptin Linked to Risk of Heart Problems: Study
  Low Cholesterol Levels May Spell Trouble for Kidney Cancer Patients
  Moles May Be Harbinger of Higher Breast Cancer Risk
  Childhood Cancer Survivors More Likely to Be Hospitalized: Study
  Red Meat May Raise Breast Cancer Risk, Study Suggests
  Tumor-Targeting Agent Attaches to Cancer Cells: Study
  Grill Safely This Holiday Weekend
  Breast Cancer Surgery Rates Vary Greatly in Canada
  Can Weight-Loss Surgery Lower Cancer Risk for the Obese?
  Cancer Survivors Face Mounting Costs of Continuing Medical Care: Study
  Timing of Day's First Cigarette May Influence Lung Cancer Risk
  Women With Breast Cancer Genes More Likely to Choose Extensive Surgery
  Lymphoseek Approved for Diagnosing Cancer Severity
  Older Breast Cancer Patients Do Follow Drug Therapy: Study
  Study Ties Too Much Sitting to Risks for Certain Cancers
  MRIs Plus Mammograms Best for High-Risk Women, Study Finds
  Vitamin D: A Key to a Longer Life?
  Soy Foods Don't Seem to Protect Against Uterine Cancer: Researchers
  Mammography Cuts Breast Cancer Deaths by 28 Percent: Study
  Popular Crohn's, Colitis Drugs Not Linked to Short-Term Cancer Risk: Study
  Cost of Prostate Cancer Surgery Varies Widely in U.S.
  When Is the Cost of Cancer 'Toxic'?
  Pavement Sealant Ban Linked to Cleaner Lake Water
  Mouse Study Supports Notion of 'Tanning Addiction'
  New Clues to Why Blacks Fare Worse With Colon Cancer
  Indoor Tanning Leads to Early Skin Cancer, Study Says
  Teens Who Prefer Menthols Are Heavier Smokers: Study
  Diets High in Dairy Might Boost Colon Cancer Survival, a Bit
  3D Mammograms May Improve Breast Cancer Screening
  Study: Daily Low-Dose Aspirin May Help Ward Off Pancreatic Cancer
  HIV Patients Less Likely to Get Cancer Treatment: Study
  Most Women Don't Need Regular Pelvic Exams, New Guidelines State
  Liver Cancer Drug Fails to Live Up to Early Promise
  Mammography Costs Soar for Seniors, But Detection Rates the Same: Study
  Possible Advance for Some Late-Stage Lung Cancer Patients
  Men Develop Breast Cancer, Too
  Childhood Vaccines Vindicated Once More
  'Generally Reassuring' Findings on Fertility Drugs, Women's Cancers
  Cholesterol Levels May Be Linked to Breast Cancer Risk
  Cervical Cancer Vaccine Doesn't Boost Clot Risk: Study
  Breast Cancer Drug Aromasin May Be Option for Some Premenopausal Women
  Testicular Cancer Up Sharply Among Young Hispanics, Study Finds
  Study Links Vasectomy to Aggressive Prostate Cancer
  Depression May Make It Harder to Beat Prostate Cancer
  Can Bike Riding Up Prostate Cancer Risk?
  Removing Healthy Breast of Little Benefit to Breast Cancer Patients: Study
  FDA Advisers Weigh Risks of Procedure for Removal of Uterine Fibroids
  Men With Prostate Cancer May Not Always Get Best Advice
  HPV Test Beats Pap Smear in Gauging Cervical Cancer Risk, Study Finds
Adult Diseases and Conditions
  Grading and Staging of Cancer
  General Information About Cancer: Overview
  Overview of Cancer
  Surgery
  Plastic Surgery Statistics
  Cancer Rehabilitation
  Online Resources - Cancer
  Breast Cancer Overview
Pediatric Diseases and Conditions
  About Cancer
  Alternative Therapy for Cancer
  Diagnosing Cancer
  Treatment for Cancer
  Causes of Cancer
  Coping with a Diagnosis of Cancer in Children
  Nutritional Requirements for a Child With Cancer