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Return to Cancer: Diagnostic Procedures Overview

More on Cancer: Diagnostic Procedures

Cancer: Diagnostic Procedures

Diagnostic Procedures for Cancer: Overview

What are diagnostic procedures for cancer?

When symptoms suggest cancer, your physician may request/perform any of the following procedures to help positively diagnose it:

  • a detailed medical history - family and personal
  • thorough physical examination
  • pelvic examination of the uterus, vagina, ovaries, bladder, and rectum
  • Pap test may be requested at the time of pelvic examination

Other diagnostic procedures that may be requested include:

  • imaging tests, such as:
    • x-ray
    • computed tomography (CT or CAT scan) - a non-invasive procedure that takes cross-sectional images of the brain or other internal organs; to detect any abnormalities that may not show up on an ordinary x-ray. The CT scan may indicate enlarged lymph nodes - a possible sign of a spreading cancer or of an infection.
    • radionuclide 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 organs, thereby detecting any abnormal areas or tumors.
    • ultrasound - an imaging technique that uses 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 non-invasive procedure that produces a two-dimensional view of an internal organ or structure, especially the brain and spinal cord. The MRI may show abnormal nodules in bones or lymph nodes - a sign that cancer may be spreading.
  • endoscopy - use of a very flexible tube with a lens or camera (and a light on the end), which is connected to a computer screen, allowing the physician to see inside the hollow organs, such as the bladder or uterus. Biopsy samples can be taken through the tube.
  • laboratory tests - to examine blood, urine, other fluids, or tumor tissue
  • biopsy - to remove a sample of the suspicious tissue for examination in a laboratory by a pathologist
  • thinprep - a Pap Test alternative - Approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Thinprep is a liquid-based procedure in which cells from the cervix are put into a vial of liquid instead of being "smeared" onto a slide. The liquid is then filtered and only the cervical cells are placed onto a slide for examination.

Once the cancer is diagnosed, an evaluation will be made to determine the extent (stage) of the cancer.

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