The technique, which has been developed in the UK, uses magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to map regions of oxygen deprivation within tumours.
Lack of oxygen – known as hypoxia – is a sign that a cancer is growing aggressively.
Once the scan has located dangerous tumours, high-dose radiotherapy could be used.
The test will also help track the effectiveness of cancer treatments by monitoring oxygen.
Study co-leader Dr Simon Robinson, from The Institute of Cancer Research in London, said: “Our technique uses MRI technology to detect tumours with areas of oxygen depletion, which tend to be more aggressive and more resistant to radiotherapy and chemotherapy.
“Our study provides strong pre-clinical evidence to validate the use of oxygen-enhanced MRI to identify, quantify and map tumour hypoxia.”
Clinical tests on cancer patients will now take place after scans on mice.