How to Diagnose Cancer?

Updated at: Apr 19, 2012
How to Diagnose Cancer?

Cancer Diagnosis and Prognosis - Cancer is diagnosed based on medical exam, physical examination and diagnostic tests.

Dr Poonam Sachdev
CancerWritten by: Dr Poonam SachdevPublished at: Aug 16, 2011

How to Diagnose CancerThe signs and symptoms of cancer can be vague and variable which often makes clinical diagnosis of cancer (based on the signs and symptoms) difficult.  Your doctor will take a detailed medical history (your symptoms, family history of cancer), do a physical exam and recommend certain tests. Histopathological examination of biopsy tissue taken from the mass, CT scan (computed tomography scan), MRI scan (magnetic resonance imaging), and endoscopy are some of the tests. The tests are done to diagnose the type of cancer, and the extent of spread among other things. Read to know more on tests and exams on how to diagnose cancer.

Medical History: Your doctor will take a detailed history of your symptoms such as fever, fatigue, blood in urine, and loss of appetite. Share with your doctor any symptoms which suggest any major changes in the way your body works or the way you feel. Inform the doctor about your other medical condition if any, such as past history of hepatitis B infection, or hepatitis C infection. Also inform your doctor about any family history of cancer.

Physical Exam:
During the physical exam, the doctor will examine for presence of any mass or growth by palpation (touching) of abdomen, listen to your breath sounds, looking for change in colour of warts, and tenderness of bones and joints. A normal physical exam does not rule out cancer.

Diagnostic Tests:
If your doctor suspects cancerous growth, he may order a series of diagnostic tests (X-ray, CT scan, MRI scan, and ultrasonography) to diagnose certain things such as the site of the tumour, the type of cancer and extent of spread.

  • X-ray: This test is useful to detect several cancers such as cancer of the bones, hollow organs and lungs. Mammography (a non-invasive low radiation x-ray process) is done to detect breast masses. Contrast media x-ray studies may be done to detect abnormalities of bone, gastrointestinal tract and urinary systems.
  • Computed tomography scan (CT): CT scan is useful for the diagnosis and staging of various cancers. Use of a contrast medium during CT scan helps to improve the accuracy of an abdominal CT scan. Besides localising the site of tumour and extent of spread, it is also a useful tool for obtaining a biopsy from the tumour.
  • Ultrasound Procedures: This is useful for the detection and diagnosis of tumours of the pelvis and breast. It can help to distinguish between benign and malignant breast tumours as well.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): MRI is useful for the detection, diagnosis and staging of various cancers as it provides excellent details of the internal organs and tissue. It is especially helpful for diagnosis of tumours in the central nervous system, spine, head, and musculoskeletal system.
  • Endoscopic Procedures: During an endoscopic examination, it is possible to directly visualise a body cavity or opening. Endoscopic examination allows the doctor to see the growth, the extent of spread, and obtain biopsy from the abnormal tissue. Endoscopy is useful to detect tumours of the throat, oesophagus, stomach, colon, and lungs.
  • Blood tests: These tests are useful to detect the amount of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets in your blood. Blood cancer and lymphoma can be diagnosed by examining the blood sample.

These are some of the tests that are done to diagnose cancers. Your doctor will not recommend all the tests at one go. Tests are done based on your signs and symptoms and early detection of cancer can improve prognosis and survival.


Read more articles on Cancer Diagnosis and Prognosis




All possible measures have been taken to ensure accuracy, reliability, timeliness and authenticity of the information; however does not take any liability for the same. Using any information provided by the website is solely at the viewers’ discretion. In case of any medical exigencies/ persistent health issues, we advise you to seek a qualified medical practitioner before putting to use any advice/tips given by our team or any third party in form of answers/comments on the above mentioned website.

This website uses cookie or similar technologies, to enhance your browsing experience and provide personalised recommendations. By continuing to use our website, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Cookie Policy. OK