Canadian Cancer Society logo
You are here: 

Blood chemistry tests

Blood chemistry tests or panels are groups of tests that measure many chemical substances in the blood that are released from body tissues or are produced during the breakdown (metabolism) of certain substances. These tests are performed on a blood sample.

There are many different types of blood chemistry tests.

Blood chemistry tests
Blood chemistry testSubstances measured

electrolyte panel

sodium

potassium

chloride

bicarbonate

kidney function tests

blood urea nitrogen (BUN)

creatinine

liver function tests

alanine aminotransferase (ALT)

alkaline phosphatase (ALP)

aspartate transaminase (AST)

bilirubin

albumin

total protein

basic metabolic panel (BMP)

glucose

calcium

electrolyte panel

kidney function

comprehensive metabolic panel (CMP)

glucose

calcium

electrolyte panel

kidney function

liver function

Why a blood chemistry test is done

A blood chemistry test may be done to:

  • evaluate a person’s general health status
  • evaluate organ function
  • evaluate the body’s electrolyte balance
  • identify potential organ damage or injury
  • identify damaged tissues that secrete chemicals into the blood

How a blood chemistry test is done

A blood chemistry test is usually done in a private laboratory or hospital laboratory. Preparation depends on the type of test being done.

  • Fasting overnight may be required, especially if certain chemicals (such as glucose or lipid levels) are being tested.
  • Blood is usually taken from a vein in the arm.
  • A tourniquet or elastic band is wrapped around the upper arm to apply pressure to the area and make the vein swell.
  • The person may be asked to open and close the fist to make the veins stand out more.
  • The skin is cleaned and disinfected.
  • A needle is inserted into the vein and a small amount of blood is removed.
    • The person will feel a prick or stinging sensation.
  • The sample is collected in a tube and labelled with the person’s name and other identifying information.
  • The tourniquet is removed and the needle is withdrawn.
    • Mild discomfort may be felt when the needle is withdrawn.
  • Pressure is applied to the area where the needle was inserted until bleeding stops.
  • A band aid may be applied.
  • For some tests, the blood sample is allowed to clot and the clear yellow fluid (serum) that forms above the clot is carefully separated and removed for analysis.
  • The sample is sent to a laboratory to be analyzed by special machines, examined under a microscope or both.

Potential side effects

Potential side effects of having a blood chemistry test include:

  • bleeding
  • bruising
  • infection

What the results mean

Normal ranges may vary from person to person and laboratory to laboratory. Many factors can affect blood chemistry results. Values may be abnormal for reasons other than cancer.

Increased blood chemistry values

ComponentAn increased value may be due toA decreased value may be due to

ALP

  • primary bone cancer or cancer that has spread to the bone (bone metastasis)
  • primary liver cancer or cancer that has spread to the liver (liver metastasis)
  • lung cancer
  • pancreatic cancer

ALT and AST

  • liver disease
  • liver cancer
  • cancer that has spread to the liver (liver metastasis)

albumin

  • inflammation or infection
  • liver disease
  • kidney disease

bilirubin

  • liver disease or blockage (obstruction) within the liver due to tumours
  • blockage of the bile duct (obstruction) by a tumour
  • cancer in the head of the pancreas

BUN

  • kidney disease or blockage (obstruction) of the urinary tract by a tumour
  • liver disease

calcium

  • parathyroid gland tumours that produce parathyroid hormone
  • tumours that produce parathyroid hormone-like substances or cause bone destruction, such as cancer that has spread to the bone (bone metastasis)
    • lymphoma
    • leukemia
    • multiple myelomamultiple myelomaA type of cancer that starts in plasma cells (white blood cells that produce antibodies to help the body fight infection) in the bone marrow.
    • some types of head and neck cancer
  • pancreatic disease
  • kidney failure

creatinine

  • kidney disease or blockage (obstruction) of the urinary tract by a tumour
  • cancer can cause the body to use and breakdown more protein
  • liver disease

glucose

  • conditions such as diabetes
  • inflammation of the pancreas
  • liver disease
  • pancreatic tumours

lactate dehydrogenase (LDH)

  • many diseases, including liver disease
  • many cancers, including advanced cancers
  • leukemia
  • lymphoma

phosphorus (phosphate)

  • kidney disease
  • liver disease
  • tumour lysis syndrometumour lysis syndromeA group of side effects that include kidney, heart and liver damage caused by treatment that rapidly kills cancer cells, which release toxic substances into the blood when they die.
  • primary bone cancer or cancer that has spread to the bone (bone metastasis)
  • liver disease

uric acid

  • leukemia
  • multiple myeloma
  • lymphoma
  • excess cell destruction that may follow chemotherapy and radiation therapy (tumour lysis syndrome)
  • Hodgkin lymphoma
  • multiple myeloma

Note: Not all factors or conditions that can increase blood chemistry components are listed above. Only the main cancer-related ones have been included.

What happens if a change or abnormality is found

The doctor will decide if more tests, procedures, follow-up care or treatment are needed.

Stories

Carrie Walker Boyd Volunteering with the Canadian Cancer Society opened my eyes to just how much work they do for people fighting cancer.

Read Carrie's story

Clinical trial discovery improves quality of life

Illustration of test tubes

A clinical trial led by the Society’s NCIC Clinical Trials group found that men with prostate cancer who are treated with intermittent courses of hormone therapy live as long as those receiving continuous therapy.

Learn more