Testing for cancer can help diagnose cancer and determine an appropriate treatment plan for cancer patients. Testing for cancer, also referred to as cancer screening, may be helpful in patients who may not exhibit any cancer symptoms and signs. Testing for cancer can be crucial for recovery, as early diagnosis is often the key to effective treatment. Research shows that testing for cancer is more beneficial for certain forms of cancer than others.
Types of Cancer Tests
Testing for cancer can take place in several forms. Common types of testing for cancer include imaging, laboratory tests, and endoscopic tests. The types of cancer tests administered to a patient will depend on the types of symptoms the patient is experiencing, as well as the type of cancer that is suspected.
Imaging Testing for Cancer
Imaging testing for cancer is used to create pictures of the internal workings of patients. This allows doctors and other medical specialists to observe the internal state of the patient and determine abnormalities which may indicate cancer. Some forms of imaging testing for cancer can help specialists to plan the appropriate treatment regimen for the patient. Imaging testing is most common in preventative cancer screening.
Imaging testing for cancer may include:
- CT or CAT scan
- Bone scan
Laboratory Testing for Cancer
Laboratory testing for cancer involves examining the cells in a specimen from the patient’s body. These samples may include blood, urine, other fluids, and bodily tissue. In many cases, cancer cells produce certain substances that doctors may be able to identify in these sample cells. Additionally, laboratory testing may illustrate abnormal organ functioning, which may also indicate cancer within the patient.
Laboratory testing for cancer may involve:
- Complete blood count (CBC)
- Blood protein test
- Tumor marker testing
- Urine cytology
Endoscopic Testing for Cancer
Endoscopic testing for cancer involves the use of an endoscope. An endoscope is a tube that harbors an attached camera. During an endoscopy, the endoscope is inserted into the patient’s body through an orifice or a surgical incision. Medical professionals can then observe the patient’s organs and identify any potential abnormalities.
Genetic Testing for Cancer
Genetic testing for cancer is most helpful for patients with a family history of certain types of cancer. Depending on each scenario, genetic testing for cancer may be performed using a blood sample, urine, cheek cells or saliva, or other types of tissue. Genetic testing for cancer often involves several blood samples. These tests indicate whether or not an individual has the mutated gene which may increase the risk of developing that type of cancer. Genetic testing for cancer does not provide a definite cancer diagnosis.
Misdiagnosis in Testing for Cancer
Testing for cancer occasionally results in cancer misdiagnosis. This can occur due to human error or incompetence, as well as faulty equipment. In some cases, faulty cancer screening results are unavoidable due to imperfections in the screening process. For example, certain types of testing for cancer may fail to identify a specific mutation of abnormal cells. Likewise, certain types of testing for cancer may identify abnormal cells as potentially cancerous when they may not be.
Confirming Testing for Cancer
It is important for doctors and patients to consider that the results of testing for cancer should be used more as a diagnostic aid, and not necessarily a confirmed cancer diagnosis. When testing for cancer suggests or indicates cancer, the patient’s doctor should perform as much additional testing and examination as possible to confirm the diagnosis. Basing a cancer diagnosis on the results of one type of testing for cancer may result in cancer misdiagnosis.
Cancer Screening Controversy
Controversy exists over whether or not certain types of testing for cancer are clinically significant in reducing the number of deaths from the associated type of cancer. Testing for cancer has shown to reduce death from cervical cancer, breast cancer, lung cancer, and colorectal cancer. However, other types of cancer such as prostate cancer do not show definitive data that this cancer screening provides a significant reduction in the number of associated deaths.
“Screening and Testing to Detect Cancer.” National Cancer Institute. National Institutes of Health. Web. 8 Nov 2013. <http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/screening>.
“Screening and Testing to Detect Cancer: Types of Screening Tests.” National Cancer Institute. National Institutes of Health. Web. 8 Nov 2013. <http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/screening/types>.
Rabin, Roni Caryn. “Screening: gaps found in breast cancer testing.” New York Times 20 July 2010: D6(L). Academic OneFile. Web. 8 Nov. 2013.