Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital
 

Laboratory Tests

Cancer Diagnosis: Laboratory Tests

How is cancer diagnosed?

There is no single test that can accurately diagnose cancer. The complete evaluation of a patient usually requires a thorough history and physical examination along with diagnostic testing. Many tests are needed to determine whether a person has cancer, or if another condition (such as an infection) is mimicking the symptoms of cancer. The doctor forms a list of possible diagnoses that can explain the symptoms and complaints, and then orders testing to confirm a diagnosis and/or to exclude other potential diagnoses. Effective diagnostic testing is used to confirm or eliminate the presence of disease, monitor the disease process, and plan for and evaluate the effectiveness of treatment. In some cases, it is necessary to repeat testing when a person’s condition has changed, if a sample collected was not of good quality, or an abnormal test result needs to be confirmed. Diagnostic procedures for cancer may include imaging, laboratory tests (including tests for tumor markers), tumor biopsy, endoscopic examination, surgery, or genetic testing.

What are the different types of laboratory tests?

Clinical lab testing uses chemical processes to measure levels of chemical components in body fluids and tissues. The most common specimens used in clinical lab tests are blood and urine. Many different tests exist to detect and measure almost any type of chemical component in blood or urine. Components may include blood glucose, electrolytes, enzymes, hormones, lipids (fats), other metabolic substances, and proteins. The following are some of the more common laboratory tests:

The following is a brief description of some of the more useful tumor markers:

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