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What examinations are done to diagnose cancer?

The most important factor in the treatment of cancer is its early detection. The earlier treatment begins, the better the chances of recovery.

When cancer is suspected, various examinations are carried out to establish the diagnosis. The type of examination depends on the location of the tumor growth.

The examination determines the location of the primary tumor, its spread, stage, determines as precisely as possible the type of cancer and its genetic characteristics, and determines whether the tumor can be removed surgically. A therapeutic strategy is determined based on all of these studies.


Do not ignore the warning signs

You should see your doctor for any unusual phenomenon that persists: cough, pain, a lump, a spot on the skin, problems with digestion or urination, a wound, bleeding, unexplained weight loss, etc. The initial clinical examination is done by a doctor.


Cancer markers (blood test)

Blood tests are used to assess general health and the functioning of major organs. You can check for the presence of certain markers in the blood. These are usually proteins that are abnormally produced by cancer cells. Their presence is only a clue to the diagnosis, not a definitive diagnosis, as they can also indicate non-cancerous conditions.


Nuclear Medicine and Radiobiology

The first diagnosis is often made with imaging. There are many techniques, each with its own indications, features, and limitations.

X-rays: based on X-rays, mainly used as the first step to detect lung and breast cancer (mammography).

Endoscopy (or fibroscopy): this is the insertion of a camera into an organ. Depending on the organ, it may be a colonoscopy (colon), gastroscopy (stomach), cystoscopy (bladder), etc.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): a method based on the use of a magnetic field that produces very accurate images of soft tissue.

Computed tomography (CT): a type of radiography consisting of a sequence of images that allows a three-dimensional reconstruction of organs.

Scintigraphy: reflects organ function. The analysis is based on the administration of a weakly radioactive contrast agent that specifically binds to the organ under study, in greater or lesser amounts depending on its structure and activity. The distribution of the contrast agent, represented by a cluster of scintillating dots, is examined using a camera and computer image processing. In a healthy organ, the distribution of the substance is homogeneous.

Tomoscintigraphy: taking several images with a mobile camera allows you to recreate a three-dimensional image of the organ in question.

Positron emission tomography (PET): a sophisticated technique that uses a weakly radioactive contrast agent to look for rapidly proliferating cells characteristic of tumors and metastases. The radioactive substance, which is derived from sugar, is absorbed by cancer cells and fixed by a special camera.



This is the collection of a tissue sample from a suspicious area for examination under a microscope to confirm the cancerous nature of the lesion and determine its characteristics and stage. It is also used to detect genetic changes in the tumor.


Genetic and molecular analysis of a tumor

A tumor consists of cells with multiple genetic abnormalities. It is possible to examine the genome of a tumor. With about ten genetic abnormalities, called markers, it is possible to differentiate a type of cancer, such as breast cancer, into several subtypes that have the same abnormalities and therefore similar mechanisms of development.

What is the genetic analysis for?

– To choose a targeted therapy (if it is possible in this particular case)

– To predict the emergence of resistance to treatment and avoid unnecessary treatment.

– To assess the risk of metastasis.



This recent discipline studies cancers arising in the context of genetic predisposition (5% of cases). Indeed, certain genetic mutations that greatly increase the risk of developing certain cancers are passed on from generation to generation. In the same family, several people can develop the same type of cancer. Through genetic tests, oncogenetics seeks to identify patients and their relatives who are carriers of such a mutation in order to offer them appropriate follow-up.

The aforementioned diagnostic methods are also used to monitor the response to treatment and monitor the patient in remission.


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