Laboratory Tests that Detect Cancer
Since prevention is one of the most important cancer-fighting tools, it is important that cancer be detected as early as possible before it spreads. For warning signs, go to our Cancer Symptoms page.
There are numerous cancer detection and prevention tests that can be used to detect cancer. We are listing the tests that are considered alternative or less toxic than standard conventional tests. Some of these tests are not used by conventional physicians, but you can always ask them to look into the test. It is important to understand that one should not rely on any one test - some tests can result in false positives or negatives. One must take all clinical factors into consideration to back up a diagnosis.
AMAS - Anti-malignin antibody screen test is designed to pick up cancers well in advance of other signs and symptoms, months before conventional medical tests can detect it. However, for advanced cancer, if the antimalignin antibody is wiped out, the test won't work. For this, other types of testing is recommended. We have also heard of a few breast cancer patients have received a false negative on this test. Again, it is important not to rely on any one test. Oncolab will send a free test kit for you to take to your doctor. The test runs $125 in addition to your doctor's office charges for drawing blood. Call 1-800-9CATest for a test kit and information.
Biological Terraine Assessment (BTA) is a computerized device that measures your blood, saliva and urine for: the amount of electrons present, pH balance, and minerals in these fluids. It will show how healthy your cells are. More specifically, it will show if the cellular environment is too acidic, if there are too few electrons to combat free radicals and/or to produce energy, or if there are too few minerals to buffer the acids. For more information on this test, call (520) 474-4181.
Cancer Marker Tests: These are immunological methods - cancer markers that are produced as cancer grows and are detectable even before it reaches a size big enough for detection by other methods. This early detection system is vital for early medical intervention that significantly improves the chances of recovery. http://www.pathlab2u.com/s-cancer.shtml discusses these markers, which include:
- Alpha fetoprotein (AFP) levels are often elevated in liver cancers (hepatocellular) and testicular cancers (non-seminomatous). Raised levels are also present during pregnancy or some gastrointestinal cancers.
- CA 15.3 values are often elevated in patients with breast cancers. When there is a history of cancer among family members, patients may be advised to also do a breast mammogram. Besides breast cancer, other non-malignant conditions (eg. cirrhosis, benign diseases of ovaries & breast) have also been known to cause elevated CA 15.3 levels.
- CA 19.9 - for gastric/pancreatic or stomach cancer - It is a diagnostic tool for those with stomach trouble such as symptoms of gastritis, abdominal pains, or gas. Its level is best evaluated along with CEA marker test.
- CA125 has become a widely used tumor marker which is measured most often in women with cancers of the reproductive system including the uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries. Other cancers that may cause abnormal CA125 levels include cancer of the pancreas, lungs, breast and colon. However, CA125/CA125-II can be elevated during menstruation, pregnancy or in individuals with ovarian cysts, pericarditis, hepatitis, cirrhosis of the liver or peritonitis, an infection of the lining of the abdomen, and even in 1-2% of healthy individuals. Once a cancer is diagnosed, CA125/CA125-II levels may prove to be an effective indicator of the effectiveness of cancer treatment. A declining CA125/CA125-II value may indicate a good response to treatment and a favorable prognosis. Persistently rising CA125/CA125-II levels may be associated with a growing tumor, presence of tumor on the peritoneum that lines the abdomen or a recurrence of a previously treated tumor. Additional evaluation is necessary to make such determinations. CA 125-II, an improved version of the original CA 125 assay, is now commercially available. Ask your doctor about it.
- Carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) is a cancer marker to screen for colorectal cancer - it is associated with digestive tract cancers (eg of the colon) as well as other malignant and non-malignant disorders. It is recommended for those with frequent constipation, diarrhea, or bleeding piles for an initial diagnostic tool. It can also help detect Medullary thyroid cancer (MTC).
- EVP - Cancer marker to screen for nasophryngeal cancer. Epstein Bar virus (EBV) has been shown to have a direct relationship with NPC where it can be detected in NPC tumors and patients with NPC tend to have higher titres of EBV specific antibodies than the general population.
CBC Blood test lists the amounts detected of about 44 substances normally found in the blood and compares the blood status with known indicators of diseases. For more information on this test, call (702) 832-8485 or 800-208-3444.
Darkfield Microscopy allows doctors to view blood cells to see how healthy the cells are. Additional lab tests can then be performed to provide a more comprehensive clinical picture of an individual's condition. In Southern California, contact James Privitera, MD at (818) 966-1618 for more information on this. There are a number of naturopaths and alternative physicians that use this approach.
ElectroDermal Screening (EDS), is a form of computerized screening based on acupuncture. By taking readings at the different acupuncture points, doctors can tell the health of the organs and of the body itself. Then by having the patient hold substances or remedies while the EDS tests the acupuncture points, the physician can tell what the patient is reacting to and what might heal him or her. EDS can be used to detect many disease states, plus the presence of chemical toxins, food and substance allergies, and imbalances in the body. Electro-acupuncture biofeedback, a form of EDS has been very successful in screening for a wide variety of conditions. However in screening for cancer it is advisable to also use traditional blood tests, blood analysis with a dark field microscope, and other screening tests. There are a number of naturopaths and alternative physicians that provide EDS screening.
Endoscopic ultrasound is another test being used to detect tumors and help in diagnosing GI cancers. Unlike a traditional endoscope, which looks inside the GI tract, the endoscopic ultrasound looks through the tissue into surrounding organs. Many times, if something is found, a biopsy is done at the same time as an endoscopic ultrasound to determine if it is cancer or just an infection. This technique is also used to help determine the stage of pancreatic cancer without doing surgery. For more information, call: KU Medical Center at (913) 588-1227. As reported by Ivanhoe - www.ivanhoe.com.
Lymphocyte Size Analysis was developed by Valentin Govallo, MD, a Russian immunologist. The test measures the diameters of lymphocytes and counts the numbers of swollen versus normal cells in a sample of a patient's blood. If the number of swollen lymphocytes is excessive or when the ratio of swollen to normal lymphocytes is out of balance, then cancer will most likely develop. (Note: A lymphocyte is a form of while blood cell whose numbers increase during infection.)
Maverick Monitoring Test (MMT) is a not really a cancer test, but it measures malondialdehyde (MDA) levels in the urine or blood. The amount of MDA tells the physician how much free-radical damage the body has sustained, as well as how the patient is responding to a nutritional anti-oxidant program, based on how much MDA levels decrease while on a particular therapy. Maverick doesn't diagnose a disease, rather, it highlights the possible preconditions that may contribute to an illness and can help detect a health problem before it occurs. Another interesting thing the test can do is measure the effects of chemotherapy and radiation and help determine the best dosages of antioxidants to counteract these effects. The test costs about $56 and is available by calling (407) 628-3399.
Positron Emission Tomography - PET scan - PET works by providing a dynamic image of the body's interior. Instead of taking a picture of the bones, like an X-ray, or the internal organs and soft tissue, like a MRI, PET lets doctors visualize the body's metabolism. Cells use the simple sugar glucose as a source of energy. By tracking how much glucose is metabolized in different areas of the body, PET enables physicians to map the body's use of the fuel. In order to see the glucose, nuclear medicine physicians attach radioactive tracers to a chemical cousin of glucose. When the mix is injected in a patient, the scanner and computer work together to create an image. Because cancer cells are dividing rapidly, they break down glucose at a much higher rate than most normal cells and the increased activity can show up on a scan. In this way, doctors can see both primary and metastatic tumors. PET scans differ from conventional CAT because this newer test is better able to detect much smaller, microscopic amounts of cancer cells that have been left over after treatment and to verify that a suspicious mass is truly cancer. CAT, on the other hand, is only able to detect larger masses, and only a surgical procedure, or biopsy, can verify that the CAT-detected mass is cancer. A PET scan can verify that even small masses are cancerous because the technique uses a type of sugar, or glucose, that glows. Cancer cells ingest larger amounts of glucose than normal cells, so they glow "hotter" than normal cells. So while CAT can identify suspicious masses based on their size, PET scans can identify masses that are cancerous based on their behavior. PET scans can be used in place of biopsy in some patients suspected of having lung cancer, and helps to guide treatment. "PET allows us to see the metabolism of a tumor," Conti said. "From that we can infer whether it's benign or malignant, if it has spread or whether treatment has been successful. Note: Medicare has agreed to reimburse for PET scans to stage and diagnose lung cancer. The main concern we have is that this test uses radiation; however, the radiation exposure involved is less than that received from many CT Scan Procedures.
Thermography uses thermal imaging which detects new blood vessels and chemical changes associated with a tumor’s genesis and growth. Thermography measures the radiation of infrared heat from our body and translates this information into anatomical images. Thermography offers a very early warning system, often able to pinpoint a cancer process years before it would be detectable by mammography. This approach can detect cancer when they are at a minute physical stage of development, when it is still relatively easy to halt and reverse the progression of the cancer. Most breast tumors have been growing slowly for up to 20 years before they are found by typical diagnostic techniques. When used as part of a multi-modal approach (clinical examination + mammography + thermography) 95% of early stage cancers can be detected. However, thermography does not have the ability to pinpoint the location of a tumor. Consequently, breast thermography's role is in addition to a ultrasound and physical examination, not in lieu of. For more information on breast thermography, including places to get them done, go to http://www.iact-org.org/breast_thermography.html or our webpage at http://www.cancure.org/breast_thermography.htm.
T/Tn Antigen Test developed by Dr. Georg Springer can detect the majority of cancers before any biopsy can pick up the presence of cancer. The T and Tn antigens are proteins on the surface of blood and skin cells and can be identified by the immune system antibodies. The concentration of these antigens vary depending on the cancer type and stage. A skin prick can predict or indicate the likely development of cancers, even 6-10 years in advance of other tests. The test appears to successfully diagnosis about 94% of lung cancers and 80% of breast cancers. More information about the test can be obtained by calling the Chicago Medical School at (847) 578-3435.
Bio-Pulse Clinic expects to be offering an inexpensive blood test called TK-1, which will be sent by mail. This test, involving only one drop of blood, is proving to be very accurate in detecting the presence of cancer in the body, although the exact location of the cancer cannot be determined. We will update this page when the test is available. Complesys (aka BioPulse) has acquired an exclusive license for the TK1 cancer detection technology from Brigham Young University (worldwide rights), and is moving to commercialize the test as quickly as possible. http://www.complesys.com.
New ultrasonic sensor technology being developed at the University of Illinois Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology may permit the rapid and accurate detection and diagnosis of cancer, without the need of a scalpel. By inserting a miniature probe into a tumor and using pulses of sound waves to image the surrounding tissue, this system could facilitate the early diagnosis of cancer. The ultrasonic microprobe would allow a pathologist to accomplish the same goal as a surgical biopsy but through a rapid and minimally invasive procedure - by inserting the probe into a tumor and displaying the image on a monitor, they could identify and classify the tumor in real time and even send the image over the Internet to specific specialists for help in identification. Go to http://www.news.uiuc.edu/scitips/01/05probe.html for more information.
Whole Body CT Scans: There are many companies starting to do whole body scans to detect cancers early. These are being touted as "safe". However, the FDA has issued a warning that high-tech computerized body imaging for health screening could be exposing the public to risky levels of radiation. It would be better to consider one of the above tests. However, CT scans can be used to replace standard X-rays. Life Extension Foundation in their November magazine had a good issue on these scans. http://www.lef.org/magazine/mag2001/nov2001_awsi.html and http://www.lef.org/magazine/mag2001/nov2001_report_scans_01.html
Additional tests to detect specific cancers:
Tests for Bladder Cancer:
Over the past few years, a number of new tests have been devised to aid the diagnosis of bladder cancer. These tests include the bladder-tumor-associated antigen test (BTATM), the BTA stat test, the BTA TRAK® test, the fibrin/fibrinogen degradation products test (FDPTM), and the NMP22TM assay. All of these tests can be performed on urine samples. The BTA® test was designed to detect proteins that are released by reproduction of bladder tumor cells, and its interpretation does not require a technician or specialist. The BTA® test significantly identifies superficial (surface) bladder tumors by changing color. The top of the BTA® test strip turns yellow when positive for bladder cancer, and it turns green when negative. The BTA stat test is an immunologic assay that can be used to identify recurrent bladder cancer. The FDP® test detects the breakdown products of blood-clotting proteins (fibrin, fibrinogen), which are increased in the urine in the presence of bladder cancer. The NMP22TM assay measures specific proteins from the nuclear matrix (cell center). It can detect transitional cell carcinoma (TCC) with a sensitivity of roughly 67%, meaning that 67% of existing TCCs are detected. But, perhaps more importantly, the NMP22TM assay it is able to predict the recurrence of bladder cancer For more information go to http://www.urologychannel.com/bladdercancer/diagnosis.shtml.
New protein test could be twice as accurate in detecting bladder cancer according to a report in the Scotsman 07/17/2002 and Tests for Breast Cancer:
- Acueity ductoscopy is a patented optical system and ductoscope, about the size of a pencil tip, enable physicians to look through the nipple directly into the milk ducts -- areas previously inaccessible to medical intervention -- where 85% of breast cancer develops. Their system of microendoscopes, coupled with patented OptiCueTM optical technology results in large, clear and sharp video images of the mammary duct system, with unprecedented depth of field perception and detects lesions as small as 0.2 mm in diameter (50 times more sensitive than a standard mammogram).
- Amas test (see above): This test can be the first choice to check for breast cancer. The AMAS test detects malignant growth only (not benign tumors) and is more sensitive than mammograms. If the AMAS is positive, further tests are warranted as the AMAS doesn't indicate Where the cancer is located, only that there is cancer within the body. In addition, the AMAS test can be used to follow breast cancer patients who are in remission, since the AMAS returns to normal within 3 months after the breast tumor (and metastases, if present) are removed or eradicated.
- Cancer Marker Tests - CA 15.3 and CA125 (above).
- DR-70 is a simple blood test - (See above).
- Ductal lavage is a new test similar to the Pap smear, and was developed by Dr. Susan Love. It is a simple blood test and an infrared imaging system that samples the lining of ducts of the breast to see what the cells are doing and to detect precancerous abnormalities or cancer cells. The procedure has been dubbed "Pap smear for the breast" because, like the test for cervical cancer, it is a non-surgical approach to identifying abnormal cells, potentially making it possible to find them when they are just thinking about becoming cancer.
- Mammography/Thermography - Mammograms can detect many breast cancers, but there is concern over false results and the hazards of radiation exposure that result from the tests. There are two new forms of mammography that are making news: Computed Tomography Laser Mammography and Full Field Digital Mammography.
The CTLM - Computed Tomography Laser Mammography system uses state-of-the-art laser technology, a special array of detectors and proprietary computed algorithms. The CTLM® system does not expose the patient to ionizing radiation or require breast compression. This approach is awaiting FDA approval.
Digital mammography still uses low energy x-rays that pass through the breast exactly like conventional mammograms but are recorded by means of an electronic digital detector instead of the film. This electronic image can be displayed on a video monitor like a TV or printed onto film. The radiologist can manipulate the digital mammogram electronically to magnify an area, change contrast, or alter the brightness.
- Another test being developed is a blood test to detect a protein marker for breast cancer. The test apparently can pick up cancerous tumors and pre-cancerous conditions. It is awaiting FDA approval.
- Thermography can determine precancerous changes at an earlier, and theoretically more treatable, stage—months or even years before those changes would be felt as a lump or be visible on a mammogram, and all without radiation. The While mammography relies primarily on finding the physical tumor, thermography uses thermal imaging which detects new blood vessels and chemical changes associated with a tumor’s genesis and growth. For more information, go to the section on Thermography above. The test, however, may not be approved by your insurance as it is still considered controversial. For for a list of places that offer go to our breast thermography page.
- T/Tn Antigen Test (see below)
- Ultrasound or sonogram can be used to determine whether a lump is a cyst (containing fluid) or a solid mass and to precisely locate the position of a known tumor. The test is safe and painless, and uses no radiation.
- Other Imaging Methods:
A number of other imaging methods are now available for detecting breast cancer. At present, they are used mainly in research studies, and sometimes to get more information about a tumor found by another method. Each of these new methods generates a computerized image that the doctor can analyze for the presence of an abnormal breast lump. These include:
Also called scintimammography, this test uses a special camera to show where a tracer (a radioactive chemical) has adhered to a tumor. A scanner is then used to see if the breast lump has picked up more of the radioactive material than the rest of the breast tissue. Dr. Fleming in Omaha has been using this approach. There are also clinical trials for this approach.
A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine uses a large magnet and radio waves to measure the electromagnetic signals your body naturally gives off. It makes precise images of the inside of the body, including tissue and fluids. MRI can also be used to see if a silicone breast implant has leaked or ruptured.
- Cancer cells grow faster than other cells, so they use up energy faster, too. To measure how fast glucose (the body's fuel) is being used, a tracer (radioactive glucose) is injected into the body and scanned with a positron emission tomography (PET) machine. The PET machine detects how fast the glucose is being used. If it is being used up faster in certain places, it may indicate the presence of a cancerous tumor.
- Mayo Clinic researchers are working on a new imaging test called magnetic resonance (MR) elastography. This test uses a combination of sound waves and MRI to evaluate the mechanical properties of tissues within the breast. "Conventional MRI is very sensitive for detecting breast cancer, but unfortunately there are too many false positives," Dr. Ehman says. "The goal of our research is to determine whether we can use this new MR elastography technique to improve the accuracy of MRI for breast cancer diagnosis, thereby reducing the need for biopsies." In addition, mammography does not work as well for women with dense breasts, those who have had lumpectomies or premenopausal women,. The combination of MRI and MR elastography could be used as an additional screening tool.
- Additional Tests to see if cancer has spread:
To find out if cancer has spread, additional tests may need to be performed to see if the cancer has spread to other organs or the bones. Some doctors will do x-rays, blood tests, CATs or MRIs, and bone scans. If one does not want biopsies of the lymph nodes, some believe the Pet or CT scan is a good alternative. In addition, biopsies can be used to see if a lump is cancerous or if it has spread to the lymph nodes. A new form of biopsy is the Mammotome® Breast Biopsy System.
- Mammotome® Breast Biopsy System is an image guided procedure (stereotactic or ultrasound) that helps physicians locate breast abnormalities and obtain tissue samples for diagnosis. Unlike other biopsy methods, the Mammotome is capable of sampling a variety of breast abnormalities with just one small incision and requires no sutures. However, it still uses x-rays to help guide the procedure. (Note: Because there is always the possibility of the cancer spreading, we still recommend less invasive approaches above.)
Tests for Colon/Colorectal Cancer:
- Carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) is a cancer marker. (See above under cancer markers.)
- DR-70 is a simple blood test - (See above).
- Hemoccult Test for colorectal cancer tests for blood in the stool. A positive finding warrants having further tests, like a colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy to detect polyps and tumors. This test can be performed by almost any doctor's office. Note: A hemoccult test can yield a false positive if the person has recently consumed fresh fruits and vegetables, red meat, iron tablets or vitamin C tablets. Aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs may also cause false positives. Be sure to discuss this with your doctor.
- PreGen-26 - a new DNA Test for Colorectal Cancer is not a predictive test but a test to detect the presence of actual disease in people with hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC). People with HNPCC have an 80% lifetime risk of developing the disease. The test, a stool-sample test was developed by Exact Sciences Corp. and is being commercialized by Laboratory Corporation of America (LabCorp, Burlington, NC, USA). In active colorectal cancer, DNA from tumors is shed into the colon and carried out of the body in stool. Patients collect stool samples and send them to LabCorp, who will send the test results to the patient's doctor for use in determining future monitoring and treatment.
Tests for Lung Cancer:
- Sputum cytology - the microscopic examination of cells obtained from a deep-cough sample of mucus in the lungs can help determine if tests for lung cancer may be required. Ask your doctor about the Lung Alert test.
- PET Scans discussed above may be able to replace the need for a biopsy. Many are now using CT scans to replace X-rays, but the PET scans appear to use less radiation than many CT scans and may provide a more complete diagnostic approach.
- Additional screening tests discussed above include CA125, DR-70, and the T/Tn antigen test.
Tests for Oral Cancer:
Doctors at the University of Oslo have found an easy way to predict one of the world's most deadly cancers - oral cancer by counting chromosomes. This test is being done in Canada and may receive approval in the states.
Tests for Ovarian and Cervical Cancer:
- CA125 levels (see above) can also indicate cancer of the reproductive system including the uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries.
- DR-70 is a simple blood test - (See above).
- Pap Smears/PAPNET - examine cells from the mucous membrane of the cervix for pre-cancerous changes in cells. PAPNET takes the test further by using a high speed image-processing computer to check for any evidence of abnormalities. A new version of the pap test, called Thin Prep can also detect the human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted virus which is believed to cause cervical cancer. It is much more accurate than just a pap.
- Ampersand Medical's InPath™ System is a biomolecular-based technology for screening for cervical dysplasia and cervical cancer. Cervical cells are collected with a balloon that can be inflated against the surface of the cervix and can capture cells from the entire surface of the cervix in a single application. It uses a specific combination of protein-based markers that illuminate and map abnormal cells.
- Positron emission tomography with a glucose analog (PET-FDG) may better detect the presence of cervical cancer that had spread to surrounding lymph nodes than traditional CT or MRI scans. Journal of Clinical Oncology, 2001;19:3745-3749.
Cancer Marker for Nasophryngeal Cancer:
- EVP - Cancer marker to screen for nasophryngeal cancer (See above under cancer markers.)
Cancer Marker for Pancreatic/Stomach Cancer:
- CA 19.9 - for gastric/pancreatic or stomach cancer - (See above under cancer markers.)
- DR-70 is a simple blood test - (See above).
Tests for Prostate Cancer:
- The Digital Rectal Exam (DRE)
- The Digital Rectal Exam (DRE)
- The Digital Rectal Exam (DRE) checks the prostate gland for any bumps or abnormalities, but it only checks the back of the prostate, so again, it must be used with other tests.
- PSA - Prostate Specific Antigen PSA - Prostate Specific Antigen may help detect prostate cancer early. PSA (prostate specific antigen) is a substance made only by the prostate. An elevated level may indicate cancer before the tumor is large enough to raise a bump that a doctor can feel during a check-up. But the test is problematic: Having a high PSA does not necessarily mean you do have cancer. Other factors can elevate PSA, such as an enlarged prostate (benign prostatic hyperplasia), mechanical pressure on the prostate (such as during a rectal exam), or inflammation of the prostate (prostatitis). Sine there are some false results, it is recommended that you get a more accurate picture of what's going on by using other tests in conjunction with it - for example you could use the DR-70 test, a digital exam and an ultrasound of the prostate, along with the PSA blood test. You can also look into the Free PSA test or PSA density test.
- Beckman Coulter's Hybritech free PSA (fPSA) test, Beckman Coulter's Hybritech free PSA (fPSA) test, is able to more accurately distinguish cancer from benign prostatic conditions. A report to this effect was published in the August 2000 issue of the journal Urology. The test has now been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for clinical use. According to William J. Catalona, MD of the Division of Urologic Surgery at Washington University School of Medicine, Free PSA is the best available way to improve the accuracy of total PSA tests. Free PSA ratios can provide the bonus of telling patients and physicians how aggressive the cancer is. Free PSA is measurable through a simple blood test.
- Another innovative kind of PSA test is the "PSA density test." This has up to a 95 percent cancer detection rate. But it requires the use of ultrasound, which is more invasive and costly.
- Telomerase Test is being developed to test for an enzyme or simple protein called telomerase, that is active when cancer arises. A drop of prostate fluid is collected from the tip of the penis and analyzed. More information to follow as we research this test.
- The Digital Rectal Exam (DRE)
Tests for Thyroid Cancer:Tests for Tests for Thyroid Cancer:
- CEA markers can also help detect Medullary thyroid cancer (MTC). (See cancer markers.)
- DMSA scan available at John Hopkins can also test for Medullary thyroid cancer (MTC).
- DR-70 is a simple blood test - (See above).
Last updated 12/16/15