Further tests after diagnosis

After you have been diagnosed with prostate cancer, you may need further tests. These will help show the size of the cancer and if it has spread outside the prostate. This is called the stage of the cancer. Knowing the stage of the cancer helps you and your doctor to decide on the best treatment for you.

Tests may include:

  • An MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan – this uses magnetism to build up a picture of your body.
  • A bone scan – this uses small doses of radiation to show abnormal areas of bone.
  • A CT (computerised tomography) scan – this uses x-rays to build up a three-dimensional picture of the inside of your body.

Your doctor or nurse will tell you when the results of your tests are likely to be ready.

Staging tests

Once you have been diagnosed, you may need further tests to help doctors know more about the cancer. These are called staging tests.

Whether you have any further tests will depend on the risk of the cancer growing quickly. Doctors work out your risk by looking at:

  • the PSA level
  • the stage of the cancer – the size of the cancer and whether it has spread
  • the grade of the cancer – this gives doctors an idea of how quickly the cancer might grow.

Knowing the stage and grade of either early or locally advanced prostate cancer helps you and your doctors decide on the best treatment plan.

The following tests can be used to help diagnose or stage prostate cancer. You may not need to have all of them. For example, men with early prostate cancer will not need a bone scan. You may also have more blood tests.

MRI scan

An MRI scan uses magnetism to build up a detailed picture of areas of your body. The scanner is a powerful magnet so you may be asked to complete and sign a checklist to make sure it is safe for you. The checklist asks about any metal implants you may have, such as a pacemaker, surgical clips or bone pins, etc.

You should also tell your doctor if you have ever worked with metal or in the metal industry as very tiny fragments of metal can sometimes lodge in the body. If you do have any metal in your body, it is likely that you will not be able to have an MRI scan. In this situation, another type of scan can be used. Before the scan, you will be asked to remove any metal belongings including jewellery.

Some people are given an injection of dye into a vein in the arm, which does not usually cause discomfort. This is called a contrast medium and can help the images from the scan to show up more clearly. During the test, you will lie very still on a couch inside a long cylinder (tube) for about 30 minutes. It is painless but can be slightly uncomfortable, and some people feel a bit claustrophobic. It is also noisy, but you will be given earplugs or headphones. You can hear, and speak to, the person operating the scanner.

Bone scan

The bones are the most common place for prostate cancer to spread to beyond the lymph nodes. A bone scan can show abnormal areas of bone.

A small amount of a radioactive liquid is injected into a vein, usually in your arm. A scan is then taken of the whole body. Abnormal bone absorbs more of the radioactive substance than the normal bone does. It shows up on the scan as highlighted areas called hot spots.

After the injection, you will have to wait for up to 3 hours before having the scan. So, it is a good idea to take something with you like a book or some music.

The level of radioactivity that is used is very low and does not cause any harm. However, you may be asked to avoid long periods of close contact with children or pregnant women for a while after the scan. This is usually for 2 to 3 days, but the staff at the hospital will give you more information.

This scan can also detect other conditions affecting the bones, such as arthritis. If any hot spots show up on the scan, you may need further tests, such as an x-ray of the abnormal area. These tests can confirm if the hot spots are cancer.

CT (computerised tomography) scan

A CT scan takes a series of x-rays, which build up a three-dimensional picture of the inside of the body. 

The scan takes 10 to 30 minutes and is painless. 

It uses a small amount of radiation, which is very unlikely to harm you and will not harm anyone you come into contact with.

CT scan
CT scan

View a large version

Read a description of this image

You may be given a drink or injection of a dye, which allows particular areas to be seen more clearly. 

This may make you feel hot all over for a few minutes. 

It is important to let your doctor know if you are allergic to iodine or have asthma, because you could have a more serious reaction to the injection.

You will probably be able to go home as soon as the scan is over.

Someone having a CT scan

Having a CT scan

A radiographer explains how a CT scan works, and Jyoti talks about her experience.

About our cancer information videos

Having a CT scan

A radiographer explains how a CT scan works, and Jyoti talks about her experience.

About our cancer information videos

Waiting for test results

Waiting for test results can be a difficult time. It may take up to a couple of weeks for the results of your tests to be ready. You may find it helpful to talk with your partner, family, or a close friend. Your specialist nurse or one of the organisations listed on our database, can also provide support. You can also talk things over with one of our cancer support specialists on 0808 808 00 00.

A lady smiling

Cancer diagnosis?

If you've been diagnosed with cancer, we can help. Sign up for ongoing information and support by email.

Sign up now

Back to Diagnosing

Causes and risk factors

We don't know exactly what causes prostate cancer. But there are things that can increase your risk. Find out what these might be and the possible changes you could make to reduce your risk.