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Understanding the Different Ways to Test for Cancer

Almost 40% of Americans are diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives. There are more than 100 different types of cancer, but they all develop when abnormal cells multiply uncontrollably in the body.

Identifying cancer as early as possible is the best way to make treatment more effective. Accurate cancer identification starts with specialized tests. Some cancer tests are part of your routine health care, but others may only be performed if a specific cancer is suspected.

Elvira Klause, MD, FACS, is an oncology specialist with extensive experience in testing for and diagnosing cancer. There are many different ways to test for cancer, and the best method for you depends on your health, age, and the type of cancer that’s suspected.

Imaging tests for cancer

Cancer cells often form tumors, or abnormal growths within your body. We can identify these tumors and abnormal cells with diagnostic imaging tests.

Barium enema

A barium enema is a type of X-ray imaging. It’s used to identify abnormalities and cancer in your colon. If you need a barium enema, Dr. Klause injects barium sulfate into your colon, which highlights areas of concern in X-ray images.

Bone scan

Bone scans evaluate abnormalities within your bones. This imaging test is similar to an X-ray, but it provides more detail for infections, injuries, and other issues that can’t be diagnosed with standard X-ray imaging. 

Bone scans are useful if cancer has metastasized (spread) from another area of your body to your bones.

Computerized tomography (CT) scan

CT scans take a series of X-rays and combine them into cross-sectional images of your body. This imaging test captures bones, but also soft tissues like muscles, organs, and blood vessels.


Colonoscopies are used to identify signs of colon cancer. Dr. Klause inserts a small camera on the end of a flexible tube into your rectum. The test allows her to see the inside of your colon and look for signs of cancer.


An echocardiogram is an imaging test for your heart. With a handheld ultrasound wand, the test captures images of the way your heart moves. Echocardiograms are common tests to diagnose heart problems and may be used to identify cancer.


In an endoscopy, Dr. Klause sends a small camera into an opening in your body to look inside it. Endoscopy is often used to evaluate your upper digestive system, including your esophagus, stomach, and the top of your small intestine.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

MRI tests use radio waves and a magnetic field to capture extremely detailed images of organs and soft tissues in your body. MRI tests are used to locate cancerous growth and evaluate how advanced the cancer may be.


Mammograms are routine tests to check for breast cancer. Mammograms take X-ray images of your breasts, and Dr. Klause reviews the images to look for tumors or masses that could indicate cancer.

Lab tests for cancer

Diagnostic lab tests involve taking a sample of tissue from your body and examining it closely in a laboratory. 


Biopsies are some of the most common tests for cancer. In a biopsy, Dr. Klause removes a sample of cells or tissue from a specific area of your body. 

Biopsies allow her to look very closely to identify cancerous cells, and biopsies may be necessary alongside other tests to confirm a cancer diagnosis.

Fecal occult blood test

This test may be used to diagnose colorectal cancer. While some types of bleeding may be visible in stool, occult blood can’t be seen with the naked eye. The occult blood test uses a small sample of stool to evaluate the presence of blood and your risk of cancer.

Pap test

Also called a Pap smear, Pap tests are routine cervical cancer screenings for women. In a Pap test, your OB/GYN takes a sample of cells from your cervix and sends them to a lab for examination. A Pap test is one of the best ways to identify cervical cancer early.

Tumor marker test

Tumor markers are substances that your body creates if cancer is present. Some types of markers are made by cancer cells, while others are made by healthy cells in response to cancer cells. 

Tumor marker tests, or cancer marker tests, evaluate your blood, urine, or body tissues to check for these substances.

Do you need diagnostic testing for cancer? Trust Dr. Klause and our oncology team. Contact us online or call our San Clemente, California, office to learn more.

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