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CancerCancer Screenings and Tests

Let’s Talk About Cancer Screenings and Tests

Early detection is vital to treating cancer effectively. So what tests should you get, and when? Look no further.

    Our Pro PanelCancer Screenings and Tests

    We went to some of the nation's top experts in cancer to bring you the most up-to-date information possible.

    Steven Edge, M.D. headshot.

    Stephen Edge, M.D.Surgical Oncologist and Vice President

    Healthcare Outcomes and Policy Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center
    Buffalo, NY
    Geoffrey Oxnard, M.D. headshot.

    Geoffrey Oxnard, M.D.Medical Oncologist

    Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
    Boston, MA
    Daniel Y. Wang, M.D.

    Daniel Y. Wang, M.D.Medical Oncologist, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Medical Oncology

    Baylor College of Medicine
    Houston, TX

    Frequently Asked QuestionsCancer Tests

    Is there a blood test for cancer?

    Here’s the thing. This question can be answered with both a yes and a no. Blood tests like the complete blood count test, which measures the amount of blood cells in your sample, can detect cancers of the blood. If you don’t have enough of certain blood cell types—or you have too many—doctors can detect if you might have a blood cancer (a bone marrow biopsy can help confirm that diagnosis). But no one blood test can detect all forms of cancer--yet. However, blood tests can determine how well your organs are functioning, which can indicate inflammation or other cancer-related concerns that need investigation. Other blood tests, like tumor marker tests, can find chemicals made by tumors in your blood, but those chemicals can be produced by non-cancerous cells too, so this test isn’t optimal for testing and diagnosis.

    How do doctors test for pancreatic cancer?

    Your doctor may have you undergo an imaging test, such as an ultrasound or CT scan, to take digital photos of your internal organs, including the pancreas. You might have an endoscopic ultrasound, where an ultrasound device is passed through an endoscope, a thin tube, into your esophagus and stomach, to take images of your pancreas. You might have a biopsy, too, often as part of the endoscopic ultrasound or during what’s called a fine-needle aspiration, to remove a tissue sample from your pancreas. You have your blood drawn to test for a specific tumor marker, CA19-9, that might be elevated in pancreatic cancer. However, not everyone with pancreatic cancer has elevated tumor markers.

    What is a CRP blood test?

    The C-reactive protein blood test, known by its acronym CRP, detects inflammation, caused by infection and trauma, in your body. Your doctor can use this blood test to determine a range of potential issues that need investigating, including the possibility of cancer. Increased levels of inflammation have been linked to cancers including liver, colorectal, lung, and gastric. Because the test is generic in a sense—it finds overall inflammation in the body, your doctor can't point to elevated results from this test and say, definitively, that you have one cancer type or another. More tests will be needed.

    Can you test for colon cancer without a colonoscopy?

    Yes! While colonoscopies are the most common screening test for colorectal cancer in the U.S., with many benefits (including excellent early detection), they also require some prep and assistance driving home after the sedation needed for the procedure. Alternatives to a colonoscopy include fecal immunochemical tests (FIT), a stool DNA test (sDNA), high-sensitivity fecal occult blood tests (FOBT), a flexible sigmoidoscopy, and virtual colonoscopy (sometimes called a CT colonography).

    Erin L. Boyle

    Erin L. Boyle

    @ErinLBoyle

    Erin L. Boyle, the senior editor at HealthCentral from 2016-2018, is a freelance medical writer and editor.