General cancer information

Having tests

General cancer information

Having tests

Not all symptoms are caused by cancer. Your GP or specialist will send you for tests to check what is causing your symptoms.

Your doctors should explain why you are having the tests and what they involve.

What you need to know

Reasons for tests

Your GP will examine you and send you for tests before you see a specialist. These initial tests are to see if your symptoms are caused by cancer or by something else.

If you do have a cancer, the specialist you see will probably send you for tests to find out more about it. This includes finding out the type of cells the cancer started in and whether it has spread.

Tests for Hodgkin lymphoma

You may need to go for a number of different tests to see if you have Hodgkin lymphoma and find out more about it.

Hodgkin lymphoma is confirmed using a biopsy.  Other tests that may be required include:

  • blood test
  • x-ray
  • lymph node biopsy
  • bone marrow biopsy
  • CT scan
  • PET scan
  • MRI scan
  • ultrasound.

You may not need all of these tests. Ask your doctor about what tests you need, where to have them and if there is any cost for you. 

Lymph node biopsy

A lymph node biopsy is generally required to confirm lymphoma.  There are several types of lymph node biopsy which sample more or less of the lymph node.

Sometimes, lymphoma can’t be confirmed from the original biopsy, and a second biopsy is required.

Bone marrow biopsy

People with a suspected blood cancer often need to have a bone marrow biopsy. Bone marrow is the spongy tissue inside your bones where your blood cells are made.

The biopsy is usually taken from the pelvis bone (just above the hip) using a long needle. You will be given a local anaesthetic, and some people also have sedation.

A specialist doctor examines the bone marrow sample for abnormal cells, and conducts several tests to find out more about the cells.

What to ask or talk about

Preparing for tests

Going for tests can make some people nervous, but knowing what to expect can help.

Your GP or specialist should tell you why you need each test and what it involves. Use our checklists to help you know what to ask.

Sometimes you need to contact the place where you are having the test for more information. This can include how to prepare for the test, how much it will cost and what you will get back from Medicare and your private health fund.

Ask how long it will take before you hear the results of the test.


Use our checklists to find helpful tips or questions to ask.

Next steps

Getting test results

It is normal to feel anxious when you are waiting for test results. 

Your GP or specialist should tell you when the results will be ready and how you will find out about them. Usually you need to make an appointment to get the results.

It is a good idea to take someone with you when you go for this appointment.

Where to get help

There are people you can talk to for more information or support.

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