There is no single test that can accurately diagnose cancer. The complete evaluation of a patient usually requires a thorough history and physical examination along with diagnostic testing. Many tests are needed to determine whether a person has cancer, or if another condition (such as an infection) is mimicking the symptoms of cancer.
Effective diagnostic testing is used to confirm or eliminate the presence of disease, monitor the disease process and to plan for and evaluate the effectiveness of treatment. In some cases, it is necessary to repeat testing when a person’s condition has changed, if a sample collected was not of good quality or an abnormal test result needs to be confirmed. Diagnostic procedures for cancer may include imaging, laboratory tests, tumor biopsy, endoscopic examination, surgery or genetic testing.
Diagnostic imaging is often necessary to diagnose or confirm the presence of cancer. Imaging is the process of producing valuable pictures of body structures and organs. It is used to detect tumors and other abnormalities, to determine the extent of disease, and to evaluate the effectiveness of treatment. Imaging may also be used when performing biopsies and other surgical procedures.
There are many different types of imaging tests used for diagnosing cancer. The tests a doctor selects depends on the type of cancer that is suspected; the person’s symptoms, age and medical condition; and the results of other tests. Some of the imaging tests that are used for diagnosing, staging and treatment monitoring are CT scans, MRI, mammography, nuclear medicine (PET CTs) and ultrasound.