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Screening of Cancer

Home Screening of Cancer

Nowadays good screening programmes are available for Breast, Cervical and Colon Cancers. Screening programme may also be offered for Prostate, Lung and Ovarian malignancy selectively.

What is screening?

Cancer screening is meant for healthy people with no symptoms at all. Screening looks for early signs that could indicate cancer is developing. It can help spot cancers at an early stage, when treatment is more likely to be successful and the chances of survival are much better. In some cases, it can even prevent cancers from developing at all, by picking up early changes that can then be treated to stop them turning into cancer. Cervical screening is the best example of this.Screening is not the same as the tests done for diagnosing or treating cancer.

Universal screening, mass screening or population screening involves screening everyone, usually within a specific age group.

Selective screening identifies people who are known to be at higher risk of developing cancer, such as people with a family history of cancer.

What about people with a high family risk of cancer?

Some people may have a higher risk of certain cancers, perhaps because of a strong family history. Their doctors may recommend they have some extra tests that are different to screening for the general population.

What if I’m not eligible for screening?

No matter what age you are, if you notice anything out of the ordinary for you and your body, it’s important to see your doctor to get checked out.

Should I be screened?

Whether or not to go for screening is your choice. Read about the benefits and risks of the test, so it will help you to make an informed decision.

Benefits of screening

Cancer screening saves thousands of lives each year.

Screening can detect cancer at an early stage. If cancer is picked up early, it means that treatments are more likely to work and more people survive.

Some screening programmes can also prevent cancer. The cervical screening programme, as well as the new Bowel Scope test, can detect abnormal changes before they can turn into cancer. Treating these early changes can prevent cancer from developing.

Risks of screening

Screening is not perfect, and it can miss cancers. How often this happens varies for different types of screening test. That’s why it is still important to know your body and see your doctor about any unusual changes, even if you have had screening.

Screening can also mean people have to come back for more tests and then find out they don’t have cancer. If this happens, you might feel very anxious.

Sometimes, screening can pick up cancers that would not grow at all, or be very slow growing, and the person may never even know they had it. This is called overdiagnosis. It means that people can get a diagnosis of cancer, and have to go through lots of treatments, that they didn’t really need. But doctors can’t tell which cancers need treating and which don’t, so they offer treatment to everyone diagnosed with cancer. This is a particular problem with breast screening.

Sometimes, the tests themselves can have risks or side effects, like bleeding, pain, or infections.

Know your body

Screening programmes can save lives from cancer. But not all cancers can be screened for, and screening tests are not perfect.

Knowing your body and what’s normal for you can help you to notice any unusual changes that could be signs of cancer. Even if you have been screened for breast, cervical or bowel cancer, if you notice any unusual or persistent changes in your body, it’s is important that you go and see your doctor.

Why isn't screening available for all cancers?

Screening programmes can only be set up for a particular cancer type if it will save lives without too much risk. But at the moment, there isn’t enough evidence for screening for all types of cancer.

A screening programme needs to have a good enough test for it to work. This test must:

  • reliably detect any cancers or abnormal changes that could lead to cancer
  • not cause too many false alarms
  • be acceptable, so that people will actually take the test
  • not be dangerous to health
  • be cost-effective.

If a test doesn’t do these things, it’s unlikely to be effective for screening the whole population.

If a cancer is rare, it wouldn’t be an effective use of time and money to screen the entire population, and it would be harder for the benefits to outweigh the harms. It would also cause unnecessary worry for those being screened. If good tests are available for rarer cancers, doctors will often offer them to people who have the highest risk of the disease.

If there isn’t a good enough test, or if there isn’t enough evidence that screening would save lives and not cause too much harm, then screening isn’t introduced.

At the moment, there isn’t enough evidence to say that screening for any type of cancer other than breast, bowel, and cervical cancer would be a good idea.

But researchers are always looking for new tests and new ways to spot cancers early, and there are some types of cancer where the evidence about screening is growing, for example, lung and ovarian cancers.