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Doctor Looking at CTI Scan
Doctor Looking at CTI Scan

Diagnosing Cancer

At Mays Cancer Center, home to UT Health San Antonio MD Anderson Cancer Center, we have leading diagnostic cancer advances at our fingertips. Our experts recommend tests and state-of-the-art therapies based on your needs, providing precise answers with compassion.

Thinking you may have cancer can weigh heavily on your mind. We make it easier for people living in San Antonio and the surrounding communities to get the answers they need close to home. 

Our cancer team includes many national leaders in cancer care. You can trust our experts to provide a precise diagnosis quickly. If you have cancer, we use special tests and advanced therapies to personalize your care and help you reclaim your health.

Why choose us for cancer diagnosis?

Highlights of our program include: 

  • Leading cancer expertise: All of our doctors have fellowship training and significant experience that enables them to diagnose cancers other doctors rarely see. At our center, each doctor only treats certain types of cancer. This specialization increases their level of diagnostic precision and expertise.
  • Early detection: Screening tests help us detect the first signs of some cancers — often before people notice any symptoms. We have multiple programs focused on identifying cancer in people at highest risk for the disease. Learn more about cancer screening and prevention services.
  • Sophisticated diagnostic tests: Our doctors use the latest tests and techniques to ensure a precise diagnosis. For example, liquid biopsies are a new kind of blood test that can tell your doctor if you have an early form of lung cancer. We can then use new cancer treatments, including targeted therapy — even before cancer shows up on scans or other imaging.
  • Genetic testing and analysis: As an academic medical center, we perform specialized pathology and genetic tests on-site. Our team includes world-renowned experts who have a cutting-edge understanding of cancer genes. With this information, we can fine-tune a diagnosis quickly. We can also recommend treatments that are more likely to be effective for you. 
  • Convenience: We offer a full spectrum of cancer diagnosis services in one location, right here in San Antonio. Our team approach to cancer care ensures you receive a comprehensive evaluation with input from multiple experts. Sometimes we can schedule multiple diagnostic tests in one day so you can start treatment faster. 
  • Support services: The cancer diagnosis process can be unnerving. We’re here for you. Our cancer teams will tell you what to expect during any tests your doctor recommends. If you have cancer, we’ll provide the information and support you need throughout cancer treatment. 


How is cancer diagnosed?

Doctors can diagnose cancer in many different ways. Often, doctors notice the first signs of cancer (such as a lump) during a physical exam. 

Since not all cancers show obvious symptoms, our doctors sometimes detect cancer unexpectedly on an imaging test for a separate medical issue. 

You can trust our team to provide the answers you need in the least invasive way possible.

Our cancer test services

Because some cancers run in families, your doctor may ask about your family history to learn more about your overall cancer risk. Our renowned genetic experts can advise you. Learn more about our cancer genetics and high-risk screening clinic.

Your doctor may recommend one or more tests to learn more about a problem, based on your symptoms and circumstances. 

Common tests we use to diagnose cancer include:

  • Blood and urine tests measure certain substances that could indicate cancer or another health problem.
  • Cancer tumor tests analyze cancer tissue in different ways. For example, these tests offer important details about a cancer’s genetic and molecular makeup, which tell us how cancer might act or the threat it poses to your health. Our experts use this information to pinpoint diagnosis and guide your treatment.
  • Advanced imaging tests (like CT, MRI and PET scans) use sophisticated technologies to help doctors see inside your body without a single incision. Your doctor may use one or multiple imaging tests to confirm a tumor’s location and whether cancer has spread.
  • Tissue sample (biopsy) can confirm or rule out a cancer diagnosis. During this procedure, a doctor carefully removes a sample of tissue from the area in question. Specialists (called pathologists) then examine the tissue under a microscope, looking for unique patterns of cancer cells. 
  • Liquid biopsies are specialized blood tests that look for genetic changes that identify possible cancer. They can help spot types of cancer for which it is difficult to safely get a tissue biopsy, such as lung cancer.
  • Image-guided biopsies: Our doctors perform specialized biopsies using advanced imaging to guide their movements. For example, ultrasound and MRI technology help our urologic doctors better target tissue so they can make a precise prostate cancer diagnosis.

Cancer staging and what comes next

If you have cancer, your doctor may recommend additional tests to learn more about a disease or how it affects your health. Doctors call this staging.

In general, lower numbers (stage 1 cancer) refer to disease found in early stages. Higher numbers (stage 4 cancer) describe more advanced disease.

A cancer stage does not dictate your future. Our cancer doctors use these details when they’re deciding which treatments are most likely to offer you successful results. 

Everyone reacts to a cancer diagnosis differently. We’re here for you. Soon after a cancer diagnosis, a member of your care team will sit down with you to help you understand more about your specific condition. 

We’ll explain all your treatment options and what you can expect in the coming days and weeks. Learn more about cancer treatments.