Imaging tests help determine whether cancer has spread to other areas in the body and to evaluate the size and location of a tumor. They are almost always used in conjunction with biopsies and/or blood tests when diagnosing. There are different types of imaging tests, which include:
X-ray: A device that uses radiation to take images of the inside of your body. X-rays for the kidney and bladder region are called intravenous pyelograms.
Dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) or bone scan: An X-ray test using low energy to determine how much calcium is in the bones. These may be given throughout cancer treatment to be sure your bones aren’t thinning.
CT or CAT scan: A three-dimensional X-ray machine that gives a cross-sectional view of the inside of the body
Positron emission tomography (PET) scan: A scan that helps locate a tumor using a radioactive tracer. Patients take a small amount of radioactive sugar or other biologic molecule, which is used by parts of the body that need that molecule. Because cancer tends to be extremely active, it absorbs more of the substance and the area is easily seen on the scan images.
MRI: A scan that uses magnetic fields to produce images of the inside of the body
Ultrasound: A scan that uses sound waves to produce images of the inside of the body
Laboratory tests involve testing blood, urine and/or other body fluids. They may have been used as part of the diagnostic process, and your doctor may use some on an ongoing basis to monitor your health.
PSA test: This blood test measures the levels of prostate-specific antigen (a protein produced by the prostate gland or from metastatic cells) in your blood, and may be used to track how well your treatment is working. After prostate surgery or radiation, the PSA level should be low.
PCA-3: A test done on the urine after a prostate massage to look for cancer cells. May be helpful in a patient with a high PSA but negative initial biopsy.
OncotypeDX™: This is a test that studies the activity of several genes within a tumor to help gauge the aggressiveness of that person’s cancer more specifically.
Prolaris: A test of gene expression that can measure the aggressiveness of prostate cancer similar to the OncotypeDX™ test but uses different genes.
Complete blood count (CBC): When you’re on chemo, getting a blood test called a CBC (complete blood count) becomes part of the routine. It’s usually done right before you get your chemo and then about two weeks later to make sure the chemo isn’t causing your blood cell levels (red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets) to fall out of a healthy range. If they do, your healthcare provider can prescribe medication to help you stay on course.
Other blood tests may look for:
Calcium levels. Calcium helps with muscle contraction, nerve signaling and blood clotting and is essential for the development of strong bones and teeth. Having high levels of calcium, known as hypercalcemia, is rare in prostate cancer patients. Low calcium levels may occur with some agents used to treat bone metastases. Symptoms often mimic the side effects of chemotherapy, including constipation, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, malaise and pain.
Liver function. Because chemo can affect the liver, your doctor may order a liver panel, a blood test that checks how well the organ is working. It detects, evaluates and monitors liver disease or damage by measuring the blood levels of certain enzymes, proteins and other substances. Low or high levels may mean that the liver is damaged or diseased.