© 2005-2012 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). All rights reserved worldwide.
Treatments, Tests, and Procedures
Learn more about the specific medical tests and procedures used to diagnose and treat cancer.
Publishing research studies is the primary way scientific professionals use to communicate their findings. They may publish original research or write a review article, which evaluates the existing body of published research on a particular topic. Well-designed research studies can help answer important questions about the biology of cancer, investigate new treatments, and identify areas for further study.
A vaccine helps the body fight disease. Most people are familiar with vaccines for diseases like chicken pox or the flu. Vaccines (sometimes called vaccinations) help train the immune system to recognize and destroy harmful substances, such as bacteria or viruses, before they can cause disease.
When a person is diagnosed with cancer, the oncologist (a doctor who specializes in treating people with cancer) recommends a treatment plan that is most likely to have the greatest benefits and the fewest risks or side effects. That initial treatment—called first-line treatment or first-line therapy—is usually chosen because it has proven to be effective for similar patients who have the same type and stage of cancer.
For various reasons, people with cancer and their families may decide to travel to receive care. Some—particularly those who reside in rural areas—may have limited access to oncologists and treatment facilities in the local area. Others may elect to travel to consult with a specialist, seek a second opinion on a diagnosis or proposed treatment plan, or undergo a therapy that isn’t widely available, such as radioactive iodine therapy or proton beam therapy.
More than 38,000 blood donations are needed every day, according to the American Red Cross. Many of these donations are given as blood transfusions to people with cancer who are undergoing chemotherapy or recovering from surgery. Blood transfusion is a procedure in which blood or a blood component is transferred from one individual (donor) to another (recipient). A person may choose to donate whole blood (the most common type of blood donation) or specific parts of the blood, such as red blood cells or platelets.
Clinical trials are research studies involving people, and they evaluate whether new treatments are safe, effective, and better than the current standard of care. They may be used to evaluate all aspects of cancer, including prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and quality of life. A critical component of clinical trials is a process called informed consent. Richard Schilsky, MD, helped Cancer.Net learn more about the informed consent process.
You may have seen tests advertised on the Internet or elsewhere that can be used to check your risk for specific diseases, including cancer, at home. These tests are called direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic tests. ASCO recently updated its 2003 recommendations for genetic testing to include information on DTC testing, as well as to provide advice to doctors and patients on some of the newer technologies becoming available for cancer screening. To learn about these tests and how to talk with your doctor about genetic testing, Cancer.Net talked with Kenneth Offit, MD, MPH.
A complete blood count (CBC) is a common blood test that is used to help diagnose some blood cancers, such as leukemia and lymphoma, tell if a cancer has spread to the bone marrow, and help determine how your body is tolerating cancer treatments. If you are being treated with chemotherapy, your doctor will likely monitor your blood cell counts regularly using CBCs.
Breast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a procedure being studied more frequently for its role in detecting breast cancer. Although the early results of breast MRI studies are encouraging, breast MRI should not be substituted for mammography for women at average risk for breast cancer. However, it may be an additional tool to screen for breast cancer in women at high risk for developing the disease.