Diagnosing appendix cancer

This page was reviewed under our medical and editorial policy by

Maurie Markman, MD, President, Medicine & Science

This page was updated on June 8, 2022.

Diagnosing appendix cancer frequently occurs during the treatment of another medical condition, medical testing or surgery for appendicitis. In addition to collecting the patient’s medical history and lifestyle habits, such as smoking and drinking, doctors may conduct various tests for diagnosing appendix cancer, including those listed below.

Lab tests

Lab tests such as blood and urine samples, may be used for diagnosing appendix cancer, determining the extent of the disease and tracking the progress of treatment. Various lab tests may be recommended to help your care team develop a treatment plan. Advanced genomic testing may also be recommended to examine the DNA of a tumor’s cells. Identifying abnormal cell changes (mutations) in a tumor may explain what is causing the cancer to grow and spread. This information may help tailor the patient’s treatment plan based on the genetic makeup of the tumor.


A range of imaging tests may be recommended as part of the diagnostic process, including:

MRI: Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is an imaging tool that shows detailed, cross-sectional pictures of the inside of the body. A combination of radiofrequency waves, powerful magnets and a computer help MRI systems to distinguish between normal and diseased tissue. 

Ultrasound: An ultrasound is an imaging test that uses high-frequency sound waves to create pictures of internal organs, revealing the structure and movement of organs. Ultrasound may also pinpoint the position of a tumor to guide a biopsy or an aspiration procedure. Unlike X-rays, radiation is not used during an ultrasound. 

CT scan A CT (computed tomography) scan helps provide detailed information about the size, shape and position of tumors in or around the appendix. The CT scan may also be used as an image-guiding tool during a biopsy to direct the needle more precisely into a suspected tumor. 

PET/CT scan: A PET (positron emission tomography)/CT scan is an advanced nuclear imaging technique that combines CT scan technology with positron emission tomography into one machine. A PET/CT scan shows both the structure and function of cells and tissues in the body during a single imaging session. In the case of appendix cancer, this scan provides a more comprehensive view of the abdominal area to determine the presence of abnormal activity, even before a tumor may have developed.

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