What are the Different Types of Cancer Detection?

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis
MRI scans are often used for cancer detection.
MRI scans are often used for cancer detection.

One of the cornerstones of cancer treatment is catching the disease early on in its development. The means of cancer detection, however, are various, and not all forms are easily detectable until they have progressed for several years. There are some ways to increase the chance of early cancer detection, including self-monitoring, screening, and diagnostic tests.

A diagram of normal blood and blood from someone with leukemia, a type of cancer.
A diagram of normal blood and blood from someone with leukemia, a type of cancer.

Self-monitoring is an important part of cancer detection, since a patient may notice symptoms far before a medical professional becomes concerned. The early symptoms of cancer may be very different depending on the type and location of the disease, but there are some common symptoms that may warrant attention. Increased levels of fatigue or exhaustion, urinary symptoms that do not relate to a bacterial infection, weight loss, and a general feeling of sickness can all be warning signs of a developing infection.

An ultrasound procedure to detect cancer is usually done on an outpatient basis.
An ultrasound procedure to detect cancer is usually done on an outpatient basis.

Knowing about personal risk factors can also help with early cancer detection. People that smoke or have a family history of cancer may be at more risk to develop certain forms of the disease. Self-monitoring can be important with a family history, as a person may be more able to distinguish symptoms having seen or heard about the condition in a close relative.

Some cancer is detectable in early stages through regular screenings. Finding signs of cervical cancer, for instance, is the reason women are told by doctors to have a yearly pap smear and well woman exam. Other types of screening tests may involve the examination of blood or genetic material for signs and markers of possible infection. Screening may sometimes catch cancer before symptoms develop, but it does not always work and is not always accurate. A method still in its infancy, doctors warn that screening is not yet a foolproof system of cancer detection.

Diagnostic tests are usually performed after screening has produced signs of a possible cancer infection or a patient has reported symptoms. Some tests may be a physical examination to check for lumps that may be tumors. If a tumor is discovered, doctors may perform a biopsy to check if the cellular material is malignant or benign before proceeding with treatment. Other tests include various body scans, such as magnetic resonance imagery (MRI), computer tomography (CT), bone scans, and ultrasounds. These help doctors closely examine suspect areas of tissue for signs of a cancerous infection.

Though many people are naturally frightened of having cancer, it is important to perform regular self-examinations and go for scheduled screening tests. The longer symptoms are ignored, the more time a cancerous infection has to develop.

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica is passionate about drama and film. She has many other interests, and enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics in her role as a wiseGEEK writer.

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica is passionate about drama and film. She has many other interests, and enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics in her role as a wiseGEEK writer.

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    • MRI scans are often used for cancer detection.
      MRI scans are often used for cancer detection.
    • A diagram of normal blood and blood from someone with leukemia, a type of cancer.
      A diagram of normal blood and blood from someone with leukemia, a type of cancer.
    • An ultrasound procedure to detect cancer is usually done on an outpatient basis.
      An ultrasound procedure to detect cancer is usually done on an outpatient basis.