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Tests for rare cancers

This page has information about diagnosing rare types of cancer, leukaemia and lymphoma. There is information on

 

A quick guide to what’s on this page

Tests you may have

The tests you need depend on the part of your body affected and what your symptoms are. There are many different tests. To diagnose most cancers, doctors need to take a sample of tissue from the area. They call this a biopsy. A pathologist then looks at the cells in the sample under a microscope.

For leukaemias and some types of lymphoma, you usually have blood tests that pick up abnormal cells in the blood.

If tests show you have a cancer, you may then need further tests to find out more about the cancer and whether it has spread.

Why it can take longer to diagnose rare cancers

If you have a rare type of cancer, leukaemia or lymphoma you may need to have more tests than people with more common types. The pathologist may need to do a number of different tests on your blood or tissue sample. Or the pathologist may need to send the sample to a specialist laboratory for examination.

Specialised tests to find the exact type of cancer can take quite a few days and sometimes weeks to carry out.

Waiting for results 

Waiting for the test results can be an anxious time. While you are waiting it may help to talk to a close friend or relative about how you feel. Or you may want to contact a support group or online forum.

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Tests you may have

The tests you need depend on the symptoms you have and which part of your body is affected. To diagnose most cancers, doctors need to take a sample of tissue from the area. They call this a biopsy. A pathologist then looks at the cells in the tissue under a microscope. 

For leukaemias and some types of lymphoma, you usually have blood tests that pick up abnormal cells in the blood. 

If tests show that you have a cancer, leukaemia or lymphoma you may need further tests to find out more about it and whether it has spread. The tests may include scans, such as a CT scan, a PET scan or an MRI scan. Doctors use this information to work out the best treatment for you. You may have more tests during and after treatment, to see how your treatment is working. This link will take you to more information about different cancer tests.

 

Why it can take longer to diagnose rare cancers

It can take longer for doctors to diagnose a rare type of cancer, leukaemia or lymphoma. This is because the symptoms may be unusual and less recognisable than more common types. You may also need to have more tests than people with more common cancers. The tests first work out whether you have a cancer. Then they find out exactly what type it is.

The pathologist may need to do a number of different tests on your biopsy sample or blood test. Or they may need to send the sample to a specialist laboratory for examination. If a sample has to be sent to another lab, this adds to the time it takes to diagnose the cancer.

Specialised tests to find out the type of cancer, leukaemia or lymphoma can take quite a few days and sometimes weeks to carry out.

 

Getting your test results

Waiting for test results is an anxious time. While you are waiting it may help to talk to a close friend or relative about how you feel. Or you may want to contact a cancer support group to talk to someone who has been through a similar experience. You can also find support on our online support forum, CancerChat.

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Updated: 27 February 2014