What Types of Cancer Detection Tests Are There? (and Which One Is Best for You)

    When it comes to battling cancer, time is of the essence and it is important to catch the disease in its early stages, long before it has had time to grow and spread significantly. In order to detect various types of cancers, doctors may employ imaging tests to take a look inside of your body and to study the current state of the cancer (if it can be detected at all). If you suspect that you may require one of these imaging detection tests in order to determine whether or not you have cancer, or to better understand its severity, here are the most commonly utilized cancer imaging tests and what they entail. 

    X-Ray Imaging

    Radiographs, more commonly referred to as x-rays, are imaging techniques that use controlled beams of radiation to pass through the body and provide a clearer picture of different parts of the body. The biggest concern with cancer patients is that they believe the radiation found in x-rays can exacerbate current cancer symptoms. While there is radiation involved, the radiation quantities are so low and so infrequent that they couldn’t do any damage. Additionally, x-rays are typically great for seeing issues with bones but may not be recommended for all types of organs and soft tissues. 


    Not as common as other imaging techniques on this list, an ultrasound is an imaging technique that relies on sound waves to produce a map of the inside of certain parts of the body. Because sound waves cannot penetrate air or bone, this method is limited to certain parts of the body and may be extremely effective in cases where tumors are close to the skin. Ultrasounds also come with fewer risks and are effective in helping doctors conduct biopsies on certain tumors. 

    Nuclear Scans (Such As PET Scans)

    Nuclear scans rely on liquid substances that carry low levels of radiation and travel throughout the body to help doctors see where cancers may be hiding. Cameras are used to track these liquids and may help to detect where cancer cells are based on their interaction with the radioactive liquid. Depending on the site, areas that interact with these liquids may show an increase or decrease in activity. The technique may be recommended along with some of the other methods on this list. 

    CT Scans

    Computer Tomography (CT) scans are capable of showing a cross-section of parts of the body in great detail, mapping out bones, tissue, and even blood vessels that surround the tumor itself. CT scans are often very reliable and make it so that doctors do not have to cut into patients to get a comprehensive view of the area. CT scans can also be used to conduct biopsies and contain more radiation than x-rays and may use dye in order to get better images. 

    MRI Scans

    Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans use strong magnets and intravenous dyes to provide a comprehensive image of the area that is being scanned. MRI scans are another heavily-recommended technique, as they eliminate the need for radiation and provide detailed images that other scans are not often able to provide. Overall, MRI cancer detection may be the best option out of the techniques. 

    Body imaging techniques are effective ways to learn more about cancerous regions inside of your body and help doctors determine the best course of action for treatment. If you believe that you may require an imaging procedure and wish to talk about your doctor about these techniques before choosing one, use this guide to familiarize yourself on what may be recommended before your next appointment.