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Is there a test for Cancer?

Sometimes, I get asked questions like this....

Is there a test to find out if I have any kind of cancer?

Mostly, this is asked by people who smoke, or have a family history of some kind of cancer and they may be concerned about their cancer risk for a good reason.

Unfortunately there is no single blood test that will screen for all cancers.

There are certain things in various lab tests that may be tracked after someone has a cancer diagnosis that will give practitioners an indication that the cancer is progressing or remaining in remission, but usually those tests, without a diagnosis already in place, are not specific enough to tell us if a cancer is starting to develop.

Even the Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) test for men has started to be questioned as a screening test for prostate cancer due to the high numbers of false positive findings that cause additional testing and needless worry for the patient.

But why not do a CT scan of my whole body?

While is it possible to do Computed Tomography (CT or “cat”) scans which give radiologists a good look at much of the body, this testing is not without significant risk as well.

A single standard chest CT scan to examine the lungs exposes the individual to the equivalent amount of radiation as 750 Chest X-Rays. (!!!)

Even the low-dose CT Chest is equivalent to 113 chest x-rays, and if there is any suspicious finding, necessitates a repeat using the standard dose test. Same thing for CT of the abdomen.

So, if you healthcare provider acquiesced to your request and ordered just those 2 tests, it would expose your body to the equivalent of 1500 chest x-rays, and we still would not have looked at your head and neck which are also at risk many individuals, especially those who use nicotine and/or alcohol regularly.

So, unless there is a specific concern, at present, there is not a quick and easy way to “find out if you have cancer somewhere.”

Sorry but I guess it's just best to eat healthy, exercise frequently and sleep well. :)

Beverly J. Howard, PhD, RN, FNP-BC

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