Medically Reviewed by Dr. K on 18 May 2022
Table of contents
Cancer Tissue Biopsy
A biopsy is a procedure that involves taking tissue from your body and testing it for cancer and other diseases. The procedure will also reveal crucial details about the type of disease you have and how to treat it.
Certain forms of cancer can be detected without a biopsy. Depending on the type of cancer you have and how far it has spread, there are many options.
If you have lung cancer, you might have a bad cough, and if you have bladder cancer, you might urinate blood. By testing you, the doctor may be able to detect a mass in your breast, abdomen, or prostate.
Other resources are available to doctors to assist them in determining whether or not you have cancer. The following are two of the most common:
- Biomarkers: Cancer-causing substances found in your blood
- Imaging: Images of lumps or growths on the inside of the body
Different forms of cancer produce biomarkers in your blood. These are substances produced by cancer cells or found in the body as a result of the disease.
It could simply be an increase in the levels of certain proteins, or it could be a shift in genetic material. Some markers point to a single form of cancer, while others point to many.
For example, prostate cancer has a marker known as PSA. Higher PSA levels in the blood (anything over 4.0 ng/mL) could indicate the presence of the disease. However, even if your PSA levels are high, you do not have prostate cancer. Prostatitis or benign prostatic hypertrophy, for example, may cause your PSA to rise.
However, taking a sample of cells from your prostate gland and examining them under a microscope is the only way to determine for sure whether you have prostate cancer. If it's cancer, the doctor will only be able to learn some things about your tumour from this procedure, such as:
- The cancer's stage (how the cells look compared to normal cells)
- How quickly it will develop
- The most effective treatment strategy
Imaging Tests for Cancer
Your doctor may order imaging tests to detect irregular growths within your body that could be cancerous. This includes the following:
- X-ray (pictures of the inside of your body)
- CT scan (multiple, computerized X-rays)
- Ultrasound (sound waves)
- MRI (pulsed radio waves in a magnetic field)
- PET scan (radioactive particles)
Nonetheless, these pictures just go so far. You may notice a change. Certain aspects of the imaging tests can also indicate that it is cancerous. However, there are several benign (noncancerous) tumours that resemble cancerous growths. That is why, if your doctor suspects cancer-based on scans and your medical history and examination, a biopsy will often be performed.
New Technology for Diagnosing Cancer
Although a biopsy still provides the most accurate and up-to-date information about a suspected cancerous tumour, researchers are constantly looking for new ways to diagnose cancer as accurately and as early as possible.
Proteomics is the study of the structure and function of various proteins. Proteogenomics examines the genes responsible for the production of those proteins in the first place. Scientists expect to learn more about which proteins appear in the blood for different forms of cancer and how the body reacts to various cancer treatments.
A new technology known as a “liquid biopsy" has also received a lot of coverage. This isn't a biopsy, but rather a closer examination of bodily fluids such as blood and urine.
A liquid biopsy searches for pieces of tumour material in these fluids, such as molecules, cells, and even DNA. However, the technology is still in its infancy. Despite the fact that it may include new information about various cancers, doctors usually confirm the diagnosis with a biopsy.
If you're at risk for a certain form of cancer or if cancer runs in your family, tell your doctor. You will determine whether to screen for specific biomarkers or conduct additional disease testing together.
Referenced on 1/5/2021
- Bruce Hershatter, MD, radiation oncologist, Emory University.
- American College of Radiology: “What Is a Radiologist?”
- American Medical Association: “Radiology — Diagnostic.”