How is cancer diagnosed?
Most people experience symptoms and begin by seeing their GP. If your GP thinks that your symptoms may be caused by cancer, they will examine you and may arrange some tests. If necessary, they will refer you on to a specialist at the hospital for tests and treatment.
This video shows what to expect if you’re having a computerised tomography (CT) scan. This is just one of the scans that can often be used to diagnose cancer.
The information in this video was correct as of 1 August 2013.
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You’ll find more information about the possible tests and scans you might have within the information about each cancer type.
What happens at the hospital
The specialist will ask you about your general health and any previous medical problems. They will also examine you. They may arrange for you to have x-rays and blood tests taken, and possibly scans. Or they may plan for tests which look inside the body, such as a colonoscopy or a bronchoscopy.
You will usually need to have a sample taken of the lump or abnormal area - this is known as a biopsy. The biopsy sample is then analysed in a laboratory and the cells are examined. This allows the doctors to see exactly what type of cancer it is and whether it’s likely to grow slowly or more quickly.
Scans can measure the size of the cancer and whether it has spread to other parts of the body or nearby lymph nodes (glands). This process is called 'staging' the cancer. Once the type and stage of the cancer is known, the doctors can discuss with you how best to treat it.
Waiting for test results
This can be an anxious time. You may find it helpful to talk about how you’re feeling with a partner, your family or close friends, or with your GP or another support organisation. You can also talk things over with one of our cancer support specialists.
There is more information about all of the tests that might be used within the cancer types section.