Cancer screening tests

March 2017

Blood Tests

Your GP or specialist may organise various blood tests to screen for cancer.
Tests that may be included include:

Full Blood Count (FBC)

The FBC includes measurement of :
  • Haemoglobin: to check for anaemia.
  • White blood cells: to assess if your body is trying to mount an immune response, for example, if you have an infection.
  • Platelets: these cells help in preventing bruising and bleeding.

Tumour markers

  • Tumour markers are proteins produced by cancers and can be detected in the blood.
  • They are useful screening tools used by both GPs and specialists. They can also be used to assess how effective your cancer treatment is.

Other blood tests

  • You may have a variety of other blood tests depending on your exact symptoms and the type of cancer for which you are being screened.
  • For example, urea and electrolyte levels are check to assess kidney function.

Cervical smear

  • A smear test aims to collect cells from your cervix to detect any abnormalities before cancer even starts to develop.
  • This is done at regular intervals as part of the UK national screening programme.


  • Endoscopy is a term used to describe looking inside your body via a tube with a camera attached. This allows direct visualisation of your body and enables biopsies to be taken.
  • Examples include:
    • Bronchoscopy explores the bronchi, which are the main airways in your lungs.
    • Gastroscopy looks at your upper gastrointestinal tract (your oesophagus and stomach).
    • Colonoscopy detects bowel anomalies, by inserting the endoscope into your intestines via the anus.


X-rays are fundamental in screening for cancers, most commonly lung or bone cancers.


  • Ultrasound scans show a shadow image of your internal organs on a monitor, which is interpreted by a radiologist.
  • Gel is applied to your skin and the doctor will place a probe on this area.
  • It is quick, painless and gives immediate results.


Mammography is an X-ray of your breasts and is used in the UK national breast cancer screening programme.


  • A biopsy consists oftaking a sample of tissue from the organ suspected to be cancerous.
  • This sample is then examined under a microscope to check whether any cancer cells are present.
  • The biopsy is usually done under local anaesthesia, or during other tests such as a colonoscopy.
  • In some circumstances, a small needle is used to obtain the tissue sample - this is called a fine-needle aspiration biopsy and is often used for breast or thyroid biopsies.

Computerised Tomography (CT Scan) and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI scan)

  • CT scans are valuable as they take consecutive x-rays which are then re-assembled by the computer to produce thorough scan images used in screening, diagnosis and monitoring of treatment.
  • MRI scans give very detailed images of your internal organs used a magnetic field.
  • You have to lie down and remain still on a flat table and a donut-type scanner surrounds you and examines the area needing to be screened.
  • The scans both involve lots of X-rays which are analysed by a computer and reported by a radiologist.
  • They take approximately 30 minutes and are painless.
  • If you are claustrophobic, please mention this to your doctor as there are open scanners available.
  • Three dimensional scans are now also available.


Comment détecter un cancer ?
Comment détecter un cancer ?
Los exámenes a realizar para el estudio de un cáncer
Los exámenes a realizar para el estudio de un cáncer
This document, titled "Cancer screening tests," is available under the Creative Commons license. Any copy, reuse, or modification of the content should be sufficiently credited to CCM Health (