April 18, 2024
April 18, 2024

What Tests Are Done to Check for Cancer? A Comprehensive Look

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What Tests Are Done to Check for Cancer? A Comprehensive Look

Cancer affects millions of people worldwide, so what tests are done to check for cancer?

There are various tests, including laboratory tests such as biopsies and imaging techniques like mammograms, CT scans, and MRIs.

Here, we’ll explore the different tests to check for cancer and the importance of regular health screenings for early cancer detection.

What Screening Tests Are Done to Check for Cancer Early?

Cancer screenings can include mammograms that check for breast cancer, Pap tests to check for cancer of the cervix, colonoscopies to detect colorectal cancer, and PSA tests for cancer of the prostate. These tests and others are essential in detecting cancer at an early stage — usually before any symptoms appear to increase the chances of successful treatment. 

Physical Examinations

By conducting physical exams, healthcare providers may be able to detect abnormalities or suspicious signs in various parts of the body, such as swollen lymph nodes and bruising. 

Blood Tests and Lab Tests

An abnormal finding (“positive” result) on a physical exam often leads to lab tests and additional cancer screening. These can be blood tests and tissue sample testing that differentiate between abnormal and normal cells under a microscope.

Complete Blood Count (CBC)

A CBC measures the number and concentration of red blood cells (RBC), white blood cells (WBC), platelets and more. Abnormalities in a CBC, such as low red blood cell counts (anemia) or high white blood cell counts (leukocytosis), could indicate the presence of blood cancer.

Peripheral Blood Smear

A peripheral blood smear involves examining a thin layer of blood under a microscope. This test can reveal the presence of abnormal blood cells, such as immature or abnormal red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets, which could be a sign of blood cancers like leukemia.

Prostate Specific Antigen Test (PSA)

PSA testing is a screening method used to detect prostate cancer in men. PSA stands for prostate-specific antigen, a protein produced in the prostate gland. An elevated PSA level in the blood could potentially indicate the presence of prostate cancer. False positives can stem from various factors, including benign prostatic hyperplasia (enlarged prostate), inflammation of the prostate, and PSA levels based on age.

Multi-Cancer Detection Tests

Multi-cancer early detection tests can detect cancer-derived signals in DNA from a single tube of blood. This test has the potential to revolutionize cancer screening by simultaneously detecting and localizing multiple types of cancer, leading to earlier interventions and improved patient outcomes. 

Liquid Biopsy

Liquid biopsies are non-invasive tests that analyze circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) or other biomarkers in the blood to detect the presence of cancer and monitor its progression. This approach overcomes the limitations of traditional biopsy techniques by providing a less invasive and more comprehensive method of detecting cancer.

Tumor Markers

Tumor marker tests, also known as biomarkers, are substances found in or produced by cancer tumor cells or other abnormal cells in response to cancer or benign conditions. They can be proteins, mutations (tissue changes), or patterns in a tumor's DNA and are usually found in blood or urine. Tumor markers provide information about cancer during all phases of care, from screening and diagnosis through follow-up to evaluate treatment success.

Genetic Testing 

Genetic testing involves analyzing a person's DNA to identify mutations or genetic variations that may increase their risk of developing certain types of cancer. By identifying specific genetic mutations or variations, genetic testing can help individuals and healthcare providers understand prevention and treatment options based on genetic predisposition.

Skin Cancer Screening

Skin cancer screening typically involves a healthcare provider examining the skin visually. They will look for abnormal moles, growths, or skin lesions that could indicate skin cancer. During the screening, your healthcare provider will ask about your personal and family medical history related to skin cancer and sun exposure. These factors and the visual examination will help with early skin cancer detection and diagnosis.


What tests are done to check for cancer: patient undergoing a mammography test

Mammograms are essential for the early detection of breast cancer. These tests use multiple X-rays to evaluate the breasts for abnormalities that might indicate a cancer tumor. There are several types of mammograms, including 2D mammograms, which are conventional and the most widely available, and 3D mammograms, which produce three-dimensional images of each breast. In 2011, 3D mammograms were approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration and have since become the standard of care for breast cancer screening. However, 3D mammography may not be available at all hospitals and mammogram facilities. 

Pap Smear and HPV Testing

A Pap smear checks for cervical cancer by collecting cells from the cervix. This test is crucial for early detection of cervical cancer, a type of pelvis cancer, and can significantly improve treatment outcomes. In addition to Pap smears, human papillomavirus (HPV) testing is also used to screen for cervical cancer. HPV is a common sexually transmitted infection that can lead to cervical cancer, and testing for the presence of high-risk HPV strains can help identify women at risk for developing the disease.

HPV can cause various types of cancers, including cervical cancer, vaginal and vulvar cancer in women, penile cancer in men, anal cancer in both men and women and certain types of throat and mouth cancers. In men, HPV-related cancers such as penile cancer and anal cancer can be detected through physical exams and biopsies. 


A colonoscopy is a very effective colon cancer screening that involves a healthcare practitioner inserting a flexible tube with a camera into the patient’s rectum and colon. This test can detect abnormal growths or polyps.

Low-Dose Chest CT Scan (LDCT)

Lung cancer screening guidelines recommend LDCT as a screening tool for early detection of lung cancer. LDCTs are advised for those at high risk, such as people with a history of moderate to heavy smoking — even if that history is remote. A low-dose chest CT involves using computed tomography to obtain detailed images of the lungs with minimal radiation exposure.

What Tests Are Done to Check for Cancer Diagnosis?

Tests can help healthcare professionals such as oncologists and radiologists identify the presence, location, and extent of cancer cells in the body. These diagnostic tests may include biopsies, where a tissue sample is taken from the suspected area and examined under a microscope, or imaging tests that evaluate for changes in the tissue of internal organs.

Computed Tomography CT Scan

A computed tomography scan (CT scan) is a procedure that uses a combination of X-rays and computer technology to create detailed images of areas inside the body. It’s commonly used to detect different types of cancer, including liver, pancreatic, and lung cancer. CT scans can show the size, shape, and location of cancer tumors, as well as help determine whether the cancer has spread to other areas of the body.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

MRI scans use powerful magnets and radio waves to create detailed images of organs inside the body. They are valuable tools that help doctors with cancer diagnosis, particularly in detecting and evaluating brain tumors, spinal cord tumors, and soft tissue tumors. MRI is a non-invasive method that offers high-resolution images, allowing healthcare professionals to accurately identify the presence and characteristics of tumors. An MRI is different from an MRA, which focuses on blood vessels. 

Positron Emission Tomography (PET) Scan

A PET scan is a type of nuclear medicine imaging that can detect changes at the cellular level in the body. It’s often used to evaluate the spread of cancer, assess cancer treatment progress, and detect cancer recurrence.


An X-ray is a common imaging technique to help with cancer diagnosis. X-rays use electromagnetic radiation to create images of internal body parts. X-rays can capture images of bones, tumors, and other abnormalities by passing a controlled amount of radiation through the body.


Ultrasounds use sound waves to generate images that depict internal structures in real time. This type of imaging might be used to detect and help doctors diagnose certain cancer types, including breast cancer, ovarian cancer, prostate cancer, liver cancer, and more.

Biopsies and Lab Tests

Biopsies are crucial diagnostic tests that aid in cancer detection. A small sample of tissue is removed from the body and examined under a microscope to determine whether cancer cells are present. Different types of biopsies include fine needle aspiration, core needle biopsy, and surgical biopsy. Each offers specific advantages depending on the location and nature of the suspected cancer.

Bone Marrow Aspiration and Biopsy

A bone marrow aspiration and biopsy involve taking bone marrow from the hip bone and examining it under a microscope to check for abnormal cells. This test is often used to detect and classify blood cancers, as well as to assess the response to treatment.


Immunophenotyping is a laboratory technique for identifying and characterizing different types of blood cells based on the presence of specific surface markers. Test results are helpful when doctors are diagnosing and classifying types of leukemia and lymphoma.

Understanding the Importance of Early Cancer Screening

Full-body MRI scans are emerging as a promising tool for early cancer detection. These scans use advanced imaging techniques to create comprehensive images of the entire body, enabling the detection of tumors at an early stage when treatment options are more effective. 

Ezra is a leading provider of advanced medical imaging. It offers cutting-edge scanning technology that can support regular health screenings and aid in early cancer detection. Ezra Scans use state-of-the-art imaging modalities, such as low-dose CT and full-body screening MRI, to provide detailed images of various body parts.

Ezra Scans are non-invasive, quick, and painless. The entire scan takes about one hour to complete, and you’ll receive your results via an easy-to-understand report and the opportunity to discuss your findings with a healthcare provider.

Take Control of Your Health Today

What tests are done to check for cancer: family smiling at the camera

Knowing what tests are done to check for cancer, including proactive screening before symptoms appear, will help you monitor your health status. 

Don't wait for symptoms to appear. Consider scheduling a visit with your healthcare provider to ensure you are current on all your cancer screenings. You can also book an Ezra Full Body MRI, which only takes an hour and will screen for cancer in up to 13 organs.