There are a variety of medical tests used to detect cancer. While these tests do not prevent cancer, they are able to detect it early, when it is easier to treat. Methods for the early detection of cancer are of utmost importance and are an active area of current research. Some techniques, such as mammography and colonoscopy, are used to detect specific cancer types (breast cancer, colon cancer). Other techniques are more general and allow the detection of a variety of different cancer types. Having routine screening tests plays an important part in early cancer detection and is therefore important for your general health.
Environment, lifestyle and family history help doctors decide who should be screened, how often, and what test to use. Some people may have one or several factors that put them at higher risk of developing a particular type of cancer. For those people, screening may begin at an earlier age and/or be performed more often.
What are we doing to ensure radiation protection of our patients? This link will provide a printable document where you will find more information about what we are doing to make sure that you will receive the tests you need safely.
Physicians can determine if and when a screening procedure is necessary. It is important to remember that if a doctor recommends a screening test, it does not necessarily mean that they believe that cancer is present. Also, abnormal results from a screening test don't always indicate that cancer has been detected. Abnormal results from a screening test may indicate that further tests are needed. These tests are used to diagnose what is causing the abnormal result of other tests and are called diagnostic tests.
Examples of non-invasive methods to detect cancer:
Ultrasound is an imaging method that uses sound waves to create an image of a part of the body. A computer program is used to analyze the echoes of sound waves into the body and generate an image of the body part on a computer screen. Ultrasound not only shows the structure of parts of the body, but it can also show movement of the body's internal organs as well as blood flowing though vessels.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is a non-invasive way to look at organs, tissues, bones, and other structures inside the body. By using strong magnetic fields and radio waves, an MRI produces 3D, cross-sectional images (like slices of bread) of the body without the use of ionizing radiation (x-rays).
A Positron Emission Tomography (PET) Scan is an imaging technique that uses radioactive molecules to create a dynamic image of internal tissues and organs. Cancer cells that are actively engaged in biological processes (metabolizing sugar) can be detected by PET. PET scans are very useful because they produce images that reveal the activity of living tissues whereas most other techniques only reveal structures.
A Computerized Axial Tomography (CAT also CT) Scan uses x-rays to form multiple images, or "slices" of a part of the body. A computer gathers all of the images and compiles them to create a 3D image of the internal structure being examined.