Can a common blood test spot cancer in general? Or is it necessary to take some specific tests for each kind of cancer?

  • Not my field but I think it depends on the type of cancer. For some there are "tumor markers"; for others, such as liver, there are parameters that show that this organ's function is impaired; complete blood count might indicate something's wrong in leukemia etc. It is a good question.
    – Lucky
    Jun 7, 2015 at 1:10

2 Answers 2


Thus far, more than 20 different tumor markers have been characterized and are in clinical use... There is no “universal” tumor marker that can detect any type of cancer.

[L]imitations to the use of tumor markers[:] ...noncancerous conditions can cause the levels of certain tumor markers to increase. ...not everyone with a particular type of cancer will have a higher level of a tumor marker associated with that cancer. ...tumor markers have not been identified for every type of cancer. ...Although an elevated level of a tumor marker may suggest the presence of cancer, this alone is not enough to diagnose cancer. Therefore, measurements of tumor markers are usually combined with other tests, such as biopsies, to diagnose cancer.

From the national Cancer institute (updated 2011) "There is no universal marker for tumors". Note that marker in that context refers to samples from any source, including blood.

Tumor Markers

To answer the converse, not all tumors need have unique markers. E.g. AFP is linked to several types of cancer.

  • 4
    I'd love to see an explanation that is a bit more elaborate, but this does answer the OP's question and cites a reputable source, so definitely a +1 :-)
    – Lucky
    Jun 7, 2015 at 13:41
  • 1
    I added a bit more @lucky to fully answer the question. Though I can't seem to make a link to en.m.wikipedia
    – jiggunjer
    Jun 8, 2015 at 9:38
  • Interesting news published recently: sciencealert.com/…
    – Hugo .L
    Nov 15, 2015 at 4:54

Cancer can be detected by some tests (for both men and women) like :

1. Skin test : In this test you find new growths of skin, sores that do not heal, changes in the size, shape, or color of any moles, or any other changes on the skin.

2. Colon and Rectum test : This test is done for cancer of the colon and the rectum.

3. Mouth test : Through this test you can check your mouth for changes in the color of the lips,tongue, or inner cheeks,cracks, sores, white patches, swelling, or bleeding.

Through all these test you can detect cancer in general.

Source :


  • 4
    I don't see how this is different from "specific test for each kind of cancer" - each of these tests is for a very limited group of cancers, and the three together cover a very small set of all possible cancers.
    – rumtscho
    Jan 18, 2016 at 11:47
  • 2
    Yes, these are just three of many, many tests for cancer (doesn't include lung/pancreatic/breast/ovarian cancer or leukemia just to name a few) This doesn't answer the question which was whether there is a blood test to test for cancer.
    – YviDe
    Jan 18, 2016 at 14:53

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