Cancer Diagnostic Tests and Blood Tests Word List

Diagnostic Tests

Barium Enema
An x-ray examination of the colon using barium sulfate. Laxatives or enemas may be required beforehand.
Barium Swallow
An x-ray study of the portion of the digestive canal between the throat and stomach (esophagus) in which the patient swallows a barium mixture while the x-ray doctor watches for signs of narrowing, irregularity, or blockage. No preparation is required except fasting. Sometimes, in a procedure called an upper gastrointestinal (UGI) series, the barium is also observed after it enters the stomach to check for stomach problems or ulcers.
The surgical removal of a small piece of tissue to determine if the area is cancerous.
Bone Marrow Biopsy and Aspiration
A needle is inserted into the bone of the hip or breast bone to obtain a sample of bone marrow for study under a microscope.
Bone Scan
A type of diagnostic examination that takes pictures of the bones after a radioactive dye is injected into a vein. This examination can show tumors of the bone.
Brain Scan
A type of x-ray examination using a radioactive dye injected into a vein that will show injury, disease or healing.
A direct examination of the air passages of the lungs. A narrow, flexible tube called a bronchoscope is gently inserted either into the nose or throat and then through the voice box, down the trachea and into the large airways of the lungs.
An examination of the entire length of the colon using a lighted, flexible tube.
An examination of the cervix and vagina using an instrument called a colposcope.
A small wedge shaped tissue sample is surgically removed from the cervix and examined for the detection of cancer cells.
The examination of cells under a microscope looking for abnormalities.
CT Scan
A CT (Computerized Tomography) scan creates cross-section images of the body, which may show cancer or metastases earlier and more accurately than other imaging methods.
Thin, flexible lighted tube inserted into the urethra to examine the bladder.
Digital Rectal Exam
An examination in which the doctor inserts a gloved, lubricated finger into the rectum to examine the rectum or prostate in males. In females, it may be a part of a pelvic examination to feel for abnormalities in the rectum or uterus.
A thin, lighted instrument used to examine parts of the inside of the body.
ERCP (Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangio-pancreatography)
An examination of the pancreas where a tube is inserted down the throat, through the stomach and into the pancreas. A dye is injected and x-rays are taken to show abnormalities. The ERCP can also be used to obtain tissue samples for biopsy.
Examination of the esophagus with a thin, lighted scope.
Estrogen Receptor Assay
A test that determines if breast cancer is stimulated by the hormone estrogen.
Fine Needle Aspirate
A procedure in which a needle is inserted under local anesthesia to obtain a sample for the evaluation of suspicious tissue.
Frozen Section
A diagnostic technique done by a pathologist on a piece of tissue removed by a surgeon. The tissue is quick frozen, stained, and then examined under a microscope to determine if it is benign or malignant.
Gallium Scan
Radiographic imaging of the body which measures the amount of the radioisotope gallium that is concentrated in a specific part of the body. It is most useful in detecting nodal disease above the diaphragm. Also called: Gallium-67 scintigraphy, Ga67 scan, high dose (8-11 mCi) gallium scan.
Guaic Test
A test that checks for hidden (occult) blood in the stool.
IV–Intravenous Pyelogram
An x-ray of the kidneys, ureters and bladder, taken after a dye is injected into a vein.
A surgical procedure to examine the organs in the abdomen with a lighted tubular instrument that is passed through a small incision in the abdominal wall. It is usually performed under general anesthesia.
A surgical procedure where the abdominal cavity is opened either to examine it or to remove or repair tissue.
An x-ray examination for enlarged lymph nodes.
A diagnostic x-ray of the breast to screen for tumors. This technique uses low dose x-rays to produce an image of the breast. All suspicious lumps must be biopsied to determine whether or not they are cancerous.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
A diagnostic procedure, which uses magnetic fields to produce images of the body.
A surgery where a tube is inserted into the chest to examine the organs in the area between the lungs and the lymph nodes. Doctors are able to take tissue samples from the lymph nodes on the right side of the chest during this procedure.
An x-ray of the spinal cord after the injection of a dye into the sac surrounding it. Used to see if a tumor involves the spinal cord or nerve roots.
Examination of the nasopharynx, a tube that connects the area behind the nose (nasal cavity) to the area behind the soft palate of the mouth.
Needle Biopsy
A type of biopsy where a needle is used to withdraw small amounts of tissue or fluid for examination by a pathologist. This procedure is also called fine needle aspiration.
Nuclear Scan
A diagnostic procedure in which a weak radioactive substance is injected into the blood stream. The body then absorbs the substance. A machine, like a giant Geiger counter, moves over the area being tested and takes pictures.
Physical examination by touching or feeling. A palpable mass is one that can be felt.
Pap Smear
A microscopic examination of cells of the cervix. This test can detect cancer of the cervix in the early stages.
Pelvic Examination
An internal examination of the female reproductive organs.
Positive Emission Tomography (PET)
Positive Emission Tomography is a scanning method that gives information about the chemical function of the body, rather than the structure. A radioactive tracer is injected into a vein to provide a color-coded picture of the body.
Progesterone Receptor Assay
A test done of a breast cancer tissue specimen to determine if it is dependent on female hormones for growth.
Pulmonary Function
Measures lung function.
Examination of the lower colon using a lighted hollow tube called a sigmoidoscope.
The use of ultrasound pictures in diagnosis.
Spinal Tap (Lumbar Puncture)
Removal of spinal fluid for examination. This simple procedure involves numbing the skin of the back with a local anesthetic and placing a needle into the numbed area to remove a sample of spinal fluid.
Stereotactic Needle Biopsy
A procedure used in the diagnosis of brain tumors. A special frame is used to hold the patients head stationary while the biopsy needle is directed to exactly the right spot. A CT scanner is used to find the correct position. This method has also been applied to very small breast cancers.
An examination of the inside of the chest using a thin lighted tube called an endoscope.
The use of high frequency sound waves to create an image of the inside of the body. Involves spreading a thin coating of jelly over an area of the skin, then bouncing high frequency sound waves through the skin onto internal organ.
Upper GI Series
X-ray using barium solution swallowed by patient; examines esophagus, stomach, and small intestine; reveals ulcers, hiatal hernia, and stomach cancer.
Energy used to produce images or pictures of internal body structures to diagnose disease.
Blood Tests

Absolute Neutrophil Count (ANC)
The ANC is calculated by multiplying the percent of neutrophils (plus bands) by the total number of white blood cells. This count is used to determine if chemotherapy can be given.
Acid Phosphatase
Also called: acid phos, acid f, acid pítase. A test of blood serum to detect a specific enzyme produced by several tissues, particularly the prostate. Acid phosphatase levels are elevated in 85 percent of cases with skeletal metastases, 60 percent of untreated cases, and 20 percent of localized cases. Usually ordered as a separate laboratory test. May also be ordered as prostatic acid phosphatase (PAP), a measure of acid phosphatase secreted by prostate gland cells specifically. Note: test results may be affected by recent prostatic massage or palpation; acid phosphatase level should be assayed before digital rectal examination. Normal range: varies according to method of processing the serum:
1.0 – 4 King Armstrong microns/dl
0.5 – 2 Bodansky or Gutman microns/dl
0 – 1.1 Shinowara microns/ml
0.1 – 0.73 Bessy Lowry microns/nk.
0.5 – 11.0 unit/L
A blood test used as a tumor marker for liver cancer. Elevated alpha-fetoprotein levels are also found in certain ovarian and teratocarcinoma or embryonal carcinoma of the testis. Elevated alpha-fetoprotein levels are not found in other histologies of testicular cancer. Normal range: Adults: <15 ng/ml.
Alkaline Phosphatase
An enzyme in the blood commonly used in medical diagnosis. It is elevated in cases of bile obstruction (liver disease or cancer involving the liver) and in various bone diseases, including cancer involving the bone.
Red blood cell pigment metabolized by the liver; may be high in liver disorders and in certain types of anemia; gives skin yellow tint.
Blood Count
A blood test used to determine the number of the various types of blood cells.
BUN (Blood Urea Nitrogen)
Chemistry study of blood serum to measure the level of urea in the blood, a sign of impaired kidney function or urinary obstruction. Normal range: 10-15 mg/100 ml.
Tumor marker that may be elevated in cancers of the ovary, breast, and colon.
A tumor marker that may be elevated in cancers of the colon and pancreas.
A tumor marker that may be elevated in breast cancer.
Elevated in cancer that has spread to the bone, with tumors that produce parathyroid hormone-like protein and in multiple myeloma, as well as in some non-malignant diseases.
CEA (Carcinogenic Embryonic Antigen)
A tumor marker found in the blood that may indicate the presence of certain types of cancer cells. Tumor marker substances may be produced by the tumor itself or by the body in response to a cancer.
Waste product in blood; is a measure of kidney function; if elevated may signify kidney disease.
Electrolytes (Sodium, Potassium Chloride, Carbon Dioxide)
These levels are useful in metabolic and endocrine disease, and for monitoring both nutritional status and the effects of treatment.
Measures iron storage protein in sialic acid; low levels suggest good prognosis in head and neck malignancies, although test is nonspecific for head and neck cancer; elevated levels present in lymphoproliferative disease; may indicate Hodgkin's disease or leukemia; monitors cause of disease in neuroblastoma; nonspecific in neurogenic tumors.
A type of white blood cell that kills bacteria.
A way of measuring the red cell content of the blood. The normal level is about 40-45 in men and 37-42 in women. A low hematocrit is a sign of anemia.
LDH (Lactic Dehydrogenase)
A blood chemistry study, usually part of a liver panel, useful in assessing liver and pulmonary disease. All tumors produce LDH. Normal range: total LDH levels range from 48 to 115 IU/liter. There are five tissue-specific isoenzymes that can be identified and measured. The distribution of isoenzymes is as follows:
LDH1: 18.1% to 29% of the total (heart, red blood cells and kidneys)
LDH2: 29.4% to 37.5% of the total (heart, red blood cells and kidneys)
LDH3: 18.8% to 26% of the total (lungs)
LDH4: 9.2% to 16.5% of the total (liver and skeletal muscles)
LDH5: 5.3% to 13.4% of the total (liver and skeletal muscles)
Another name for white blood cells. A type of cell in the blood which helps defend the body against diseases caused by bacteria, virus, or parasites. There are three types of leukocytes: monocyte, granuloctye, and lymphocytes.
A type of white blood cell. The three main kinds of lymphocytes are T cells, B cells, and natural killer cells. T cells attack and destroy virus-infected cells, foreign tissue and cancer cells; B cells help produce antibodies or proteins that help destroy foreign substances; Natural Killer cells destroy cancer cells and virus-infected cells.
A mature white blood cell that fights bacterial infections.
A blood cell that assists in blood clotting.
Platelet Count
Measures the number of platelets in a drop of blood. Platelet counts increase during strenuous activity and certain conditions called myeloproliferative disorders: infections, inflammations, malignancies, and when the spleen has been removed. Platelet counts decrease just before menstruation. Normal values range from 150,000 to 400,000 per microliter. A count below 50,000 can result in spontaneous bleeding; below 5,000, patients are at risk of severe life-threatening bleeding.
Ploidy Analysis
A test to measure the amount of DNA contained in a cell. Most cancer cells are aneuploid, which means they contain an abnormal amount of DNA.
Proliferation Index
High rates indicate actively growing tumors and a greater risk of relapse.
PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen)
A substance (tumor marker) in the blood derived from the prostate gland. Its level may rise in prostatic cancer and is useful as a marker to monitor the effects of treatment. It is occasionally elevated as a result of non-malignant conditions, such as benign prostatic hypertrophy. Should be evaluated in conjunction with other diagnostic tests such as digital rectal exam, transrectal ultrasound, and/or prostatic acid Phosphatase levels.
Red Blood Cell (Erythrocyte)
Cells in the blood that carries oxygen and are responsible for the red color of blood.
Red Blood Cell Count (RBC)
Counts the number of red blood cells in a single drop of blood. "Normal" ranges vary according to age and sex. Menñ4.5 to 6.2 million; Women 4.2 to 5.4 million; Children 4.6 to 4.8 million. A low RBC count may indicate anemia, excess body fluid, or hemorrhaging. A high RBC count may indicate polycythemia (an excessive number of red blood cells in the blood) or dehydration.
Enzyme found in liver cells; elevated in liver disease and may also be elevated in heart attack.
Enzyme elevated in liver disease (e.g. hepatitis, alcoholic liver, etc.)
S-Phase (Cell Cycle Analysis)
Percentage of tumor cells synthesizing DNA; patients with high S-phase fraction have less favorable prognosis.
Thyroid Hormones T3
Thyroxine (T4) represents 80 percent of the thyroid hormone produced by the normal gland and generally represents the overall function of the gland. The other 20 percent is triiodothyronine measures as T3. Sometimes the diseased thyroid gland will start producing very high levels of T3 but still produce normal levels of T4. Therefore measurement of both hormones provides an even more accurate evaluation of thyroid function.
Thyroid Hormones T4
T4 reflects the amount of thyroxine in the blood. If the patient does not take any type of thyroid medication, this test is usually a good measure of thyroid function.
Thyroid Profile
Measures the amount of hormone produced by the thyroid gland; aids in diagnosis of hypo or hyperthyroidism and in monitoring response to thyroid treatment.
Elevated levels of this serum hormone are found in follicular carcinoma and return to normal following treatment if all tumor is removed; useful for monitoring residual disease and recurrence of follicular carcinoma.
Tumor Markers
Chemicals in the blood that are produced by certain cancers. Measuring the markers is useful for diagnosis, but especially useful for following the course of treatment.
Uric Acid
Elevated in gout; may also cause kidney stones.
White Blood Cells
A type of blood cell that is responsible for fighting germs and infections. White blood cells are composed of monocytes, lymphocytes, neutrophils, eosinophils, and basophils. The normal count is 5,000 to 10,000. It may be elevated or depressed in a wide variety of diseases. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy usually cause low white counts.
White Blood Count (WBC)
Measures the number of white cells; WBC elevated during infection, inflammation, burns, leukemia, low WBC indicates bone marrow depression may be present with some viruses, toxic reactions, German measles, infectious hepatitis, and other diseases.
Type Percentage Number
Neutrophil 50-60% 3000-7000
Eosinophils 1-4% 50-400
Basophils 0.5-2% 25-100
Lymphocytes 20-40% 1000-4000
Monocytes 2-9% 100-600

Cancer Information Service
Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center
University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics