If your physician suspects cancer during physical examination or while taking a medical history, they might order certain cancer blood tests to guide the diagnosis. These blood tests are called tumor markers. Tumor markers could be specifically raised in certain cancers, and may give some idea about the origin of cancer and whether it is responding to the treatment protocol. These tests, however, are neither specific for certain cancers nor highly sensitive.
Other blood tests could be ordered. While these may not detect cancer or benign tumors, they can give a general idea about the functioning of the organ and indicate whether it has been affected by cancer.
What types of blood tests can help detect cancer?
Tumor marker tests
Tumor markers are chemicals produced by cancer cells and found in the blood. However, tumor markers are also made by normal cells in the body, and levels may increase significantly in noncancerous conditions. 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 testicular cancer
- Human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) for germ cell tumors, such as testicular cancer and ovarian cancer
- Carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) for colon cancers
- Human epididymis protein 4 (HE4) and inhibin for ovarian cancer
Circulating tumor cell tests
Recently developed blood tests can detect tumor cells that have separated from an original cancer site and are flowing through the bloodstream. The United States Food and Drug Administration (U.S. FDA) has approved one circulating tumor cell test to monitor people with breast, colorectal or prostate cancer. However, these tests are not commonly used in a clinical setting.
Blood protein testing
Electrophoresis is a test that examines various proteins in the blood. This can help identify various immunoglobulins, which are elevated in people with multiple myeloma. A bone marrow biopsy may help confirm the diagnosis of blood cancer.
Complete blood count (CBC)
A complete blood count helps the doctor to:
- Diagnose some blood cancers, such as leukemia and lymphoma.
- Find out if cancer has invaded the bone marrow.
- Look how a person’s body handles cancer treatment.
- Diagnose other noncancerous conditions.
The results of CBC are interpreted as:
- Low white blood cell count: Cancer treatment tends to lower the body’s white blood cells. Leukemia, lymphoma or multiple myeloma also lower white blood cell count.
- Low red blood cell count: Some chemotherapy or radiation treatment may lower red blood cell count (anemia). Low red blood cell count could also be caused by the cancer bleeding into the stomach, which occurs in stomach cancer.
- Varying amount of white blood cells: Highly abnormal lymphocytes or monocytes can indicate the possibility of certain types of cancer.
- Low platelet count: Cancer that affects the bone marrow can also lower platelet count.
A bone marrow biopsy may help confirm the diagnosis of blood cancer.
Urinalysis is a lab examination of urine for various cells and chemicals, such as red blood cells, white blood cells, infection or excessive protein. Blood in the urine may indicate a benign condition, but it can also indicate other problems.
Other blood tests include:
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Stanford Health Care. Urine Test – Urinalysis. https://stanfordhealthcare.org/medical-tests/l/lab-tests/types/urinalysis.html
The University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. Cancer Diagnostic Tests and Blood Tests Word List. https://uihc.org/health-topics/cancer-diagnostic-tests-and-blood-tests-word-list
Top Can Cancer Be Detected by a Blood Test? Related Articles
Can Liver Cancer Be Diagnosed With a Blood Test?The liver is the second largest organ (the first being the skin) in the human body. One blood test used to help diagnose liver cancer is the tumor marker alpha-fetoprotein (AFP), but it is not specific to liver cancer.
CancerCancer is a disease caused by an abnormal growth of cells, also called malignancy. It is a group of 100 different diseases, and is not contagious. Cancer can be treated through chemotherapy, a treatment of drugs that destroy cancer cells.
Cancer 101 SlideshowLearn the basics about cancer including types, causes, how it spreads, symptoms and signs, stages and treatment options. Read about the common type of cancers.
Screening Tests for CancerCancer detection are methods used to find cancer in persons who may or may not have symptoms. Symptoms of cancer are abnormal sensations or conditions that persons can notice that are a result of the cancer. It is important to your doctor for regular checkups and not wait for problems to occur.
How to Lower and Cut Your Risk of CancerAbout a third of all cases of cancer can be prevented. Find out how to lower your chances of getting it.
Cancer QuizTake this quiz to learn the causes of cancer. Get the facts about the causes, symptoms, and treatments for the world's most common cancers.
Cancer: Does This Cause Cancer?Everything gives you cancer, right? Not really. WebMD's slide show tells you about the research into cancer and cell phones, X-rays, plastic bottles, coffee, and more.
How Can You Detect Breast Cancer Early?Breast cancer develops from the cells of the breasts and can spread to other parts of the body (metastasis). It is one of the most common cancers diagnosed in women in the United States. A lump in the breast or armpit is often the first sign. Treatment success depends largely on early detection.
How Can You Detect Liver Cancer Early?It is often hard to detect liver cancer at early stages because they do not present any symptoms until they are advanced. Small liver tumors are difficult to identify during a physical examination because most of the liver is covered by the rib cage.
How Do They Test for Testicular Cancer?Testicular cancer develops when one of the many kinds of testicular cells multiply uncontrollably, forming a mass. Tests for testicular cancer include ultrasound, CT scan, blood tumor markers and biopsy.
How Do You Detect Bone Cancer?Cancer means an uncontrolled growth of cells in the body. The term bone cancer is used for any cancer that starts in the bones. This is also called primary cancer of the bones. Cancers that begin in one part of the body and spread to bones (metastasis) are not categorized as bone cancer.
How Is Prostate Cancer Diagnosed?
Prostate cancer is largely a disease of men over 40, so it’s around this age doctors recommend the first prostate screening. The first exam is a blood test to determine if there are abnormal prostate specific antigen (PSA) levels in your blood – PSA is produced by the prostate. If the PSA is high, your doctor will perform a digital rectal exam, during which the doctor feels your prostate from inside your rectum with a gloved finger. Other diagnostic tests include an endoscopic biopsy of tumor tissue for analysis in a lab.
Men's Cancer SymptomsSee pictures of which 15 cancer symptoms men ignore such as skin changes, difficulty swallowing, rapid weight loss, a breast mass, and more. Learn possible clues to finding and detecting cancer early.
Targeted Therapy: What Are The 10 Hallmarks of Cancer?Targeted cancer therapy is a specialized treatment for certain cancers with medications that target the proteins and cell-signaling pathways in the cancer cells which drive their growth and proliferation. Targeted therapies also aim to stop some of the other mechanisms in the tumor microenvironment which the cancer cells enslave to foster their growth and metastasis.