Why do I need to get tested for cancer?

Cancer knows no boundaries and is not constrained by gender, age, what you do, where you stay and what you eat. Some cancers are common among men and women and certain cancers such as breast cancer have a life-time effect on women.

Although many people are aware of the reasons for early detection, they are reluctant to take part in cancer screening because they believe they are at low risk of developing cancer since they are healthy and have no family history.

Some might feel embarrassed or undignified by the procedures or have heard horror stories from friends who had bad experiences. Others are fearful of the results or delay the tests because they could not find the time to do it.

Early detection is based on the concept that the sooner the cancer is detected, the more effective the treatment is likely to be. Over 40% of cancers can be prevented and some of the most common cancers, including breast cancer, colorectal cancer (colon cancer) and cervical cancer are curable if detected early.

Tests and scans to diagnose cancer

There are a whole host of diagnostic tests to determine your current health level, and detect cancer. Here is a list of common tests which you should consider, depending on your health risk status. Not every test is required for everyone. It is always best to consult your doctor before deciding and undertaking any test.​

Barium enema radiological examination

  • This procedure uses barium and air to outline the lining of the rectum and colon.

  • The barium is given in an enema (injection of a liquid through the anus) which is then 'held' inside the colon while x-rays are taken.

  • However, a colonoscopy is more accurate to detect small polyps or early cancers. A colonoscopy also allows removal of polyps, which is important in the prevention of colorectal cancer (colon cancer).

Barium meal radiological examination

  • During the examination, the patient swallows liquid containing barium.

  • X-rays are then taken to delineate the stomach wall. Ulcers and lumps can be detected.

  • This procedure is specific for cancers of the digestive tract.


  • In this examination, a fibre-optic tube, about 7mm in diameter, is introduced through the nose and into the lung under light sedation and local anaesthesia.

  • Small pieces of tissue can be painlessly removed for further examination to diagnose cancer.

  • This procedure is specific for lung cancer.


  • A flexible fibre optic scope is introduced via the anus to examine the inner covering (mucosa) of the entire large intestine.

  • This technique can effectively detect very early cancers and precursor polyps as well as any other pathology, e.g. infection, inflammation, diverticular disease.


  • A specialised examination with a binocular microscope to assess the cervix when a woman has an abnormal pap smear, or when the cervix appears suspicious on clinical examination.

  • Colposcopy can detect infection by Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), pre-cancer, and cancer of the cervix, vagina and external genitals (vulva).

Computed Tomography (CT)

  • This test uses a special x-ray machine that takes pictures from many angles.

  • A computer to produce detailed cross-sectional images combines the pictures.

  • The CT scan can help show if and where the cancer has spread.

Computed Tomography (CT) Colonography

  • Computed tomographic (CT) colonography, also known as 'virtual colonoscopy', is an imaging technique of the colon involving multi-slice CT and computer software to generate high-resolution 2-dimensional and 3-dimensional images of the inner surface of the colon.

  • These images are then interpreted by a radiologist to determine the presence of several types of abnormalities of the colon.

  • CT colonography has been investigated as a technique for colon cancer screening. Although it requires a full bowel cleansing similar to that required for conventional colonoscopy, the procedure requires no sedation or analgesia, and is faster to perform than conventional colonoscopy.

  • However, since it is only a screening procedure, patients with positive findings require conventional colonoscopy for biopsy of the lesion.

Read page 2 for tests to diagnose breast cancer and more.

Ref: S13​

Check out these articles on cancer:

Top 10 Cancers in Singapore (for Men and Women)

8 Common Misconceptions About Cancer

Top Cancer-Fighting Foods