Further tests for prostate cancer

Once you have been diagnosed with prostate cancer, you may go for further tests. These show the size of the cancer and whether it has spread beyond the prostate gland (the stage of the cancer).

The tests may include:

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

You may also have more blood tests.

You will usually get your test results back in a couple of weeks. Waiting for test results can be a difficult time. It may help to talk to someone about how you are feeling.

Further tests for prostate cancer

If your specialists are certain you have cancer, they may want to carry out further tests to find out more about the stage of your cancer. The stage gives information about the extent of the cancer.

The grade of your cancer is usually found out when you get your biopsy results. The grade gives information about whether the cancer is a slow- or fast-growing type.

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

Staging tests

The following tests can be used to help diagnose or stage prostate cancer. You may not need to have all of them. Your doctor should explain the benefits and disadvantages of each test before you agree to have any of them. They will also tell you how and when you will get the results.

The tests may include more blood tests, as well as any of the following.

MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan

An MRI scan may show whether the cancer has spread into the tissue around the prostate gland or into the lymph nodes near the prostate.

This test 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's safe for you. The checklist asks about any metal implants you may have, such as a pacemaker, surgical clips, bone pins, etc. You should also tell your doctor if you've 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's likely that you won't be able to have an MRI scan. In this situation another type of scan can be used.

Before the scan, you'll be asked to remove any metal belongings including jewellery. Some people are given an injection of dye into a vein in the arm, which doesn't 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'll lie very still on a couch inside a long cylinder (tube) for about 30 minutes. It's painless but can be slightly uncomfortable, and some people feel a bit claustrophobic. It's also noisy, but you'll be given earplugs or headphones. You can hear, and speak to, the person operating the scanner.

MRI scans can also sometimes be used to help you decide whether to have another biopsy, or to help doctors take biopsies more precisely. This usually happens when biopsies have been negative for cancer, but other factors, such as a high PSA level or particular symptoms, suggest that there may still be a risk of prostate cancer.

Isotope 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 very small amount of a mildly 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, and shows up on the scan as highlighted areas called hot spots.

After the injection, you’ll have to wait for up to three hours before having the scan, so it’s 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 doesn’t 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 2–3 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. This means that further tests, such as an x-ray of the abnormal area, may be needed to confirm if any hotspots that show up on the scan are cancer.


You may have a chest x-ray and x-rays of the bones to check your general health, and to see if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.

CT scan

A CT (computerised tomography) scan uses x-rays to build a three-dimensional (3D) picture of the inside of the body. You may be given either a drink or injection of dye. This is to make certain areas of the body show up more clearly. This scan takes about 30 minutes and is painless. We have more detailed information about having a CT scan.

Waiting for test results

Waiting for test results can be a difficult time. It may take from a few days 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.

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