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Our general interest e-newsletter keeps you up to date on a wide variety of health topics.
Cancer blood tests and other laboratory tests may help your doctor make a cancer diagnosis. Reduce your anxiety by learning about cancer blood tests and how they're used.
Subscribe to our Living With Cancer e-newsletter to stay up to date on cancer topics.
If it's suspected that you have cancer, your doctor may order certain cancer blood tests or other laboratory tests, such as an analysis of your urine or a biopsy of a suspicious area, to help guide the diagnosis.
With the exception of blood cancers, blood tests generally can't absolutely tell whether you have cancer or some other noncancerous condition, but they can give your doctor clues about what's going on inside your body.
Because your doctor has ordered cancer blood tests to look for signs of cancer, it doesn't mean that a cancer diagnosis has been made and you have cancer. Find out what your doctor might be looking for when cancer blood tests are done.
Samples collected for cancer blood tests are analyzed in a lab for signs of cancer. The samples may show cancer cells, proteins or other substances made by the cancer. Blood tests can also give your doctor an idea of how well your organs are functioning and if they've been affected by cancer.
Examples of blood tests used to diagnose cancer include:
Tumor marker tests. Tumor markers are chemicals made by tumor cells that can be detected in your blood. But tumor markers are also produced by some normal cells in your body, and levels may be significantly elevated in noncancerous conditions. This limits the potential for tumor marker tests to help in diagnosing cancer.
The best way to use tumor markers in diagnosing cancer hasn't been determined. And the use of some tumor marker tests is controversial.
Examples of tumor markers include prostate-specific antigen (PSA) for prostate cancer, cancer antigen 125 (CA 125) for ovarian cancer, calcitonin for medullary thyroid cancer, alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) for liver cancer and human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) for germ cell tumors, such as testicular cancer and ovarian cancer.
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