Diagnosis & Staging

How is endocrine cancer diagnosed?

Several tests and procedures may be used to detect, diagnose and determine if and how far your cancer may have spread. The most common include:


  • A physical exam and medical history to check for signs of disease, such as unusual lumps and bumps


  • Laboratory blood tests to measure your hormone levels and check your blood for certain hormones caused by cancer


  • A tumor marker test that checks a sample of your blood, urine or tissue for certain substances, or ‘markers’ made by cancer in the body


  • A 24-hour urine test to measure for certain cancer in the body 


  • Imaging that can show “pictures” of tumors in the body:
    • MIBG scan that measures radiation to detect tumors in the body 
    • CT (CAT) scan that makes pictures of areas inside the body with a computer linked to an X-ray machine 
    • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) using a magnet, radio waves and a computer to make a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body
    • PET scan that uses a small amount of radioactive sugar to light up cancer cells in the body, making them easy to see
    • Endoscopic ultrasound using a small tube attached to a lens through the mouth or rectum to form pictures of the inside of your body 
    • Upper endoscopy to look at the organs and tissues inside the body to check for abnormal areas 
    • Colonoscopy using a small think tube-like instrument to check for cancer inside the rectum and colon 
    • Capsule endoscopy using a tiny camera inside a capsule that a patient swallows to take pictures inside the body 


  • Biopsy to check for cancer in tissue samples taken during endoscopy or colonoscopy

How is endocrine cancer staged?

The staging of your cancer depends on the specific kind you have. The doctor will use one or more of the tests listed above. It is important to discuss your staging with your doctor to understand if, and how far, your cancer has spread. This information will help you and your doctor make treatment decisions.

What does staging mean?

Once you have been diagnosed with cancer, your doctor will check to see if it has spread to other organs in your body and if so, how far. This is called ‘staging.’ It is important to know the stage of your cancer in order to make your treatment plan.