How is Cancer Diagnosed?

Looking for a specific cancer is just as varied as the types of cancer a person could have. Depending on where in the body it could originate, or the seriousness of the threat it might pose, a patient has a number of options when it comes to testing for cancer. Here is a quick look at how biopsies, lumbar punctures, blood tests and CT Scans are used to diagnose cancer at The London Oncology Clinic, one of the leading cancer facilities in the UK.


People know that surgery is a major treatment option for removing a cancer, but it can also be beneficial if someone wants to know if they have cancer. A precautionary surgery, known as a biopsy, is used for diagnosing all kinds of illnesses. During the operation, a surgeon will look at the area a tumour could possibly be in, remove a very small piece of tissue, and then sew everything back up. This freshly removed tissue is sent straight to a laboratory where it is examined under a microscope to see if any common cancer cells are existent.

Lumber Puncture

This type of test is one that many people fear due to its description. A needle is injected in to the spine, right in the space between vertebrae. Sounds scary, but it isn’t. The fluid in and around the spine is a great indicator for seeing if there are any cancerous cells making their way around the body. When a doctor performs a lumbar puncture they are only going to take out a few drops of fluid. Because of the area they’re working in, a patient can expect to feel a headache afterwards but this can be dealt with by simply resting on your side. The fluid taken is examined by a pathologist to determine whether the cells in the fluid are cancerous.

Blood Test

Blood tests are common for all types of illness as they’re a great indicator of just how well the body is doing. A full blood count can help a doctor find out everything from how well your liver is functioning to how much calcium you have in the body. In terms of looking for cancer, most blood tests are looking out for specific tumour markers. A tumour marker is a particular protein (think of it like a residue) that is created by a tumour and flows through the blood stream. Certain cancers are known to create certain proteins, and being able to pinpoint what a protein is can be a major stepping stone in diagnosing a cancer. Waiting times after a blood test can vary. In some private cancer clinics a patient can receive the results of a blood test in roughly an hour. If a person was getting a specific tumour marker test or having their genes examined, it could take anything from a few hours to a few weeks.

CT Scan

Many people feel intimidated when they walk in to a room with a CT scanner as it stands there alone. Lying down for a long period inside the tube can feel a little claustrophobic, but it is one of the best and least harmful ways of diagnosing a potential cancer. We all know what a plain X-ray looks like, but CT scans are useful at building a complete picture of your insides. Imagine you’re looking at a normal X-ray. It is just a photo of your body at just one specific angle. A CT machine takes X-rays at a number of different angles, helping to form a complicated and intricate image that a radiographer can use to give much better judgement on a potential tumour’s condition.

Results after a CT scan aren’t always instantaneous. A radiographer will have to check and look thoroughly at the X-Rays, then make a report of their findings for your doctor.

Now these are just a few different ways to diagnose cancer. Other popular methods include endoscopies, IVU, ultrasound and bone scans.