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Diagnostic Testing

At Miami Valley Hospital (MVH), we meet with patients, diagnose and discuss their cancers, and create personalized treatment plans. If you have a symptom or your screening test result suggests cancer, your doctor must find out whether it is due to cancer or to some other cause. Your physician may ask about your personal and family medical history and do a physical exam. Tests you may have include lab tests, x-rays, or other tests or procedures.

Lab Tests

Tests of the blood, urine or other fluids can help doctors make a diagnosis. These tests can show how well an organ is doing its job. Also, high amounts of some substances may be a sign of cancer. These substances are often called tumor markers. However, abnormal lab results are not a sure sign of cancer. Doctors cannot rely on lab tests alone to diagnose cancer.


Imaging procedures create pictures of areas inside your body that help the doctor see whether a tumor is present. These pictures can be made in several ways:

  • X-rays - X-rays are the most common way to view organs and bones inside the body.
  • CT scan - An x-ray machine linked to a computer takes a series of detailed pictures of your organs. You may receive a contrast material to make these pictures easier to read.
  • Radionuclide scan - You receive an injection of a small amount of radioactive material. It flows through your bloodstream and collects in certain bones or organs. A machine called a scanner detects and measures the radioactivity. The scanner creates pictures of bones or organs on a computer screen or on film. Your body gets rid of the radioactive substance quickly.
  • Ultrasound - An ultrasound device sends out sound waves that people cannot hear. The waves bounce off tissues inside your body like an echo. A computer uses these echoes to create pictures called a sonogram.
  • MRI - A strong magnet linked to a computer is used to make detailed pictures of areas in your body. Your doctor can view these pictures on a monitor and can print them on film.
  • PET scan - You receive an injection of a small amount of radioactive material. A machine makes pictures that show chemical activities in the body. Cancer cells sometimes show up as areas of high activity.


In most cases, doctors need to do a biopsy to make a diagnosis of cancer. For a biopsy, the doctor removes a sample of tissue and sends it to a lab. A pathologist looks at the tissue under a microscope. The sample may be removed in several ways:

  • With needles: The doctor uses a needle to withdraw tissue or fluid.
  • With an endoscope: The doctor uses a thin, lighted tube to look at areas inside the body. The doctor can remove tissue or cells through the tube.
  • With surgery: Surgery may be excisional or incisional
    • Excisional: the surgeon removes the entire tumor. Often some of the normal tissue around the tumor also is removed.
    • Incisional: the surgeon removes just part of the tumor

Learn more about Breast Biopsy.