Testing for cancer

You are being tested for cancer because: 

  • You have signs or symptoms that your primary care provider or dentist would like a cancer specialist to investigate
  • Your cancer screening, recent blood test or medical procedure indicated that you need testing for cancer

Being tested for cancer does not necessarily mean that you have cancer. Testing for cancer is used both to rule out cancer and to diagnose cancer. Many people who are tested for cancer do not have cancer. 

Types of tests and procedures

There are many types of tests and procedures used to rule out or diagnose cancer.  Some of the common tests and procedures are listed below.

Blood work

Blood work looks at the components or chemicals in your blood using a blood sample. A blood sample is usually taken from a vein in your arm using a needle. 

Diagnostic imaging

Diagnostic imaging uses machines or techniques to create pictures of the inside of your body.  One example of diagnostic imaging is X-ray. 


Endoscopy uses a thin, flexible tube with a camera to see the inside of your body, such as your throat or colon.


Biopsy removes a sample of tissue from your body so it can be studied under a microscope for cancer cells. A biopsy can be taken using a needle, another device, or surgery. 

There are some very specialized tests and procedures that are not offered in our region, such as a type of diagnostic imaging called a PET scan. If you need one of these tests, your doctor will send you to a hospital in a nearby region.

You can find more information about tests and procedures by using the related resources on the right side of this page. You can find locations where tests and procedures take place by using the related services on the right side of this page.

What to expect

You may only need one test to determine whether or not you have cancer. It is also possible that you may need several tests before cancer can be ruled out or diagnosed.

Your doctor will likely ask you to start with less invasive tests for cancer, like blood work or diagnostic imaging. You may need an endoscopy or biopsy if more information is needed. 

Diagnostic assessment programs

If you are being tested for colorectal or lung cancer, your doctor may refer you to a diagnostic assessment program.

When you are referred to a diagnostic assessment program you will be contacted by a Nurse Navigator who is an experienced healthcare provider who will help you manage appointments and answer questions. Your Nurse Navigator will work with you to arrange your tests and appointments so a doctor can diagnose your problem or symptom as quickly as possible.