Torresdale Campus


Diagnosing Cancer

There are many ways to diagnose cancer, from self-exams and doctor's exams to lab tests and surgical biopsies. How you diagnose cancer is less important than when you do. Early detection is important to overall prognosis of the disease. To diagnose cancer, your doctor may use one or more of the following approaches:

  • Physical Exam: Your doctor may feel areas of your body for lumps that may indicate a tumor. During a physical exam, he or she may look for any abnormalities, such as changes in skin color or enlargement of an organ that may indicate cancer.

  • Laboratory Tests: Laboratory tests, such as urine and blood tests, may help your doctor identify abnormalities that can be caused by cancer. For instance, in people with leukemia, a common blood test called complete blood count (CBC) may reveal an unusual number of white blood cells.

  • Imaging Tests: Imaging tests allow your doctor to examine your bones and internal organs in a noninvasive way. Imaging tests used in diagnosing cancer may include a computerized tomography (CT) scan, bone scan, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), ultrasound and X-ray, among others.

    While imaging tests, such as X-rays, are helpful in detecting masses or areas of abnormality, they alone can't differentiate cancerous cells from noncancerous cells. For the majority of cancers, the only way to make a definitive diagnosis is to use a biopsy to collect cells for closer examination.

  • Biopsy: During a biopsy, your doctor collects a sample of cells for testing in the laboratory. There are several different ways of collecting a biopsy sample. Which biopsy procedure is right for you depends on your type of cancer and its location. Some of the most common kinds of biopsies are Bone Marrow, Endoscopic, Needle, Vacuum-assisted, and Image Guided.

While there are more than 100 unique types of cancer, we focus on diagnosing those cancers that are most prevalent in our Northeast Philadelphia community, including:

Head and Neck
Multiple Myeloma
Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS)


For more information on cancer diagnosis at Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center at Torresdale or other cancer diagnosis services available, please call 215-890-3030.