Diagnostic Testing

Diagnostic testing is used to determine if cancer is present or not, and provides the doctor with important information to plan for and evaluate the effectiveness of treatments.

Generally there is not a single test that can accurately diagnose cancer, so several kinds of tests may be involved. Mount Sinai Hospital is home to many experts in cancer diagnostic testing.

When a person has a symptom or a screening test result that suggests there might be cancer, the doctor will want to do further tests. In addition to asking questions about daily history of cancer or lifestyle – like smoking history and alcohol use – the doctor will likely order laboratory tests (blood, urine), medical imaging tests or other tests or procedures.

The doctor may determine that a biopsy needs to be done, which is often the only way to diagnose cancer for certain.

  • Lab tests: Looking for high or low levels of certain substances in the body is an important tool for doctors to use to see if cancer is present.
  • Imaging tests: An imaging test is a way to let doctors see what’s going on inside your body. They can be used to look for a mass or lump (tumour) if a person has symptoms. They can also help find out if the symptoms are caused by cancer or by some other type of disease.
  • Colonoscopy: At Mount Sinai Hospital, we have a special Diagnostic Assessment Program (DAP)to ensure a streamlined process for patients who require a colonoscopy for symptoms that are worrisome for possible cancer.
  • Biopsy: In most situations, the doctor will want to do a biopsy to diagnose cancer. A biopsy is a procedure that removes a sample of tissue so that a pathologist can look at the tissue under a microscope to see if the tissue is cancer. 

In most situations the doctor will want to do a biopsy to diagnose cancer. A biopsy is a procedure in which removes a sample of tissue so that a pathologist can look at the tissue under a microscope to see if the tissue is cancer.

If it is a cancer, the tests also can help to provide as much information as possible about the specific type of cancer. The pathologist describes the findings in a pathology report which is sent to the doctor who requested the biopsy testing. Pathology reports play an important role in diagnosing cancer and helping decide treatment options.

It may be done in several ways, depending on the location of the area of concern in the body:

  • A needle biopsy is done using a needle so that the doctor can withdraw a small amount of tissue or fluid (bone marrow aspirations, spinal tap). This most common in breast, prostate, and liver biopsies.
  • During an endoscopy, the doctor can use a thin tube (endoscope) to examine areas inside the body (the tube goes in through the mouth or anus) and then will remove the abnormal tissue along with some of the surrounding normal tissue through the endoscope.
  • A colonoscopy is an exam of the colon and rectum, where the endoscope goes through the anus. If the doctor sees polyps, they will be removed and sent to a lab for testing.
  • A bronchoscopy is an exam of the trachea, bronchi, and lungs where the endoscope goes through the mouth or nose and down the throat.
  • During surgery, a surgeon removes an area of abnormal cells and sends them to the pathologist for testing.
  • Some tests involve important preparation. Be sure that you have and understand all of the instructions that have been provided for your specific test.   Asking questions to make sure that you understand what to expect is always okay!
  • Having someone with you for support at appointments is always a good idea, but in some instances, it is required.  Some tests (like colonoscopy and biopsy during a surgery procedure) may require that you have someone accompany you and drive you home.

Referral forms are located under Laboratory and Pathology Medicine.

Colorectal Diagnostic Assessment Program (DAP) 

For individuals undergoing diagnostics for a potential colon cancer diagnosis.

Medical Imaging 

Our Medical Imaging department at Mount Sinai Hospital is part of the Joint Department of Medical Imaging. It’s the largest comprehensive medical imaging department in Canada.

Pathology and Laboratory Medicine 

Our team performs a wide range of services including blood tests and specialized tissue analysis, providing support to many hospitals, medical clinics and health care professionals in the GTA, across Canada and the world.