How does the doctor determine if I have cancer?

First the doctor [your general practitioner] will listen to your story and do a physical examination. Should he/she find something, there are several ways to find out if it is cancer or not, namely:

  • Biopsy. A small piece of the tumour is cut out and looked at under a microscope to determine the type of cancer.
  • Endoscopy. This is a medical procedure where a doctor puts a tube-like instrument into the body to look inside. There are many types of endoscopy, each of which is designed for looking at a certain part of the body e.g. gastroscopy for the stomach and cystoscopy for the bladder.
  • CT scan or MRI scan. The machine takes many pictures (x-rays) of the body taken from different angles. These are then combined to give a detailed picture of internal organs. Doctors are then able to look for tumours. The CT and MRI scans are painless.
  • Mammogram. This is a special type of low dose x-ray used to detect breast cancer. The breast is compressed (squeezed by a machine) during the procedure and so it may be slightly uncomfortable.
  • Bloods. Sometimes cancer cells give off substances that can be detected in the blood. This tells the doctor that there is cancer somewhere in the body. They are called blood markers.