Tests and Cancer

18 June 2018

Read full transcript

Expert interviewed:
Dr Lorraine Chantrill, Medical Oncologist

The thing about cancer is that you need to have many tests to diagnose cancer, and see how you’re tracking during and after treatment.

But there are many questions that may crop up before and after your cancer diagnosis, such as what’s the difference between all these tests? And why do you need so many? Why does it take so long to get the results?

In this episode of The Thing About Cancer, Julie sits down with medical oncologist Dr Lorraine Chantrill, to tackle these questions, and much more.

Lorraine describes the most common tests used for cancer, and outlines the differences between CT, MRI and PET scans. She talks about how the doctor decides which test to suggest, and who does imaging tests and who interprets them.

— Phil, diagnosed with bowel cancer

Listen to Tests and Cancer now or find more episodes here.

Why are these so many tests?

Lorraine explains that there are a lot of tests, but some people may need more tests than others. Tests help doctors identify the cancer type, and how far it has spread – and this helps them develop the best treatment plan possible.

A range of tests may be needed depending on the cancer type. For example, in pancreatic cancer, the tumour often doesn’t show up clearly on a CT scan, and in this case an MRI scan can detect the cancer more effectively.

What are some of the most common tests?

The most common tests you are likely to have are blood tests. Most of these blood tests are used to check the function of the liver and kidneys, and whether there are any abnormalities in the way the bone marrow is producing red cells, white cells and platelets.

Lorraine explains that there are also some cancer specific tests, which are called tumour markers.

Listen now to learn about tumour markers – and how they are used to track how well the treatment is working, or whether the cancer has come back.

Lorraine also describes biopsies, and tells us how they are used during a cancer diagnosis.

What are the different scans, and how do they help?

Lorraine talks about the most common scans, like CT, MRI and PET scans, what they involve, and how they help doctors develop the best treatment plan possible.

Learn about the people who do the tests and interpret them, such as radiographers in radiology facilities.

Why does it take so long to get results?

Lorraine also explains why some tests results come back quickly, while others can take longer.

— Lorraine Chantrill, medical oncologist

Tune in now to learn about these topics and more, including what staging is, how consent works, and how much all this will cost.

Want more information or support? 

If you heard something mentioned in the podcast, you’ll find a link to it below. We’ve also added links to other sources of information and support.

From Cancer Council NSW

From other organisations

  • American Cancer Society – read about understanding imaging (radiology) tests for cancer and how they are used by health professionals
  • American Cancer Society – read about some possible reasons for delays in biopsy and cytology test results when they are taking longer than expected
  • My Health Record – an online summary of your health information, including test results, that you can share with health care providers

Listen to Tests and Cancer now or find more episodes here.