Testing for cancer

You may have tests for cancer because of symptoms or changes within your body which are worrying you, after routine screening or as part of follow-up for an existing cancer.

This page will help you find out more about the different tests for cancer and how can help.

What tests are right for you?

There are lots of tests used to help diagnose cancer.

Your GP or consultant will decide which tests are right for you based on:

  • Your symptoms
  • Type of cancer suspected
  • Part of your body affected
  • Your age and general health
  • Previous investigations you've had

Types of tests

The most common ways to test for cancer include:

  • Blood tests
  • Urine tests
  • Biopsy – removing a small piece of tissue to be looked at under a microscope
  • Scans – including CT, MRI, bone, ultrasound and PET
  • Camera investigations – endoscopy or colonoscopy
  • Lumbar puncture – testing spinal fluid
  • Bone marrow test

Preparing for a test

You should always be given instructions before you have a test for cancer to tell you if you need to do anything before or after. 

Sometimes you will be asked not to eat beforehand or temporarily stop taking some of your medications.

If there’s anything you don’t understand, you can phone the hospital or GP and check.

Waiting times for cancer tests

When you are referred you should either receive an appointment for a specific test or with a specialist doctor to discuss the tests you might need.

How quickly this might happen depends on where you live:

  • In England, you should see a specialist within two weeks
  • In Northern Ireland the two-week target only applies for breast cancer. There is no specific time scale for other cancers
  • In Scotland and Wales there is no specific time scale – but you will be seen as soon as possible

Depending on the results of your tests there might be further investigations needed.

is here with you

You might have questions about the tests you may be having, and what the results could mean. 

You may feel your anxiety levels are building up and your concentration affected as you wait for the results.

Our Cancer Support Specialists are here listen to your concerns and help you find the information and help right for you:

Last review: Oct 2021 | Next review: Oct 2022

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