Recommended Cancer Screening Tests and Facts You Must Know

Cancer Screening Tests and Facts You Must Know

Authored by DesiMD Doctor on 6 Nov 2015 - 17:21


Cancer screening is basically checking for cancer in a normal person, before the symptoms appear. The screening helps doctors to detect and treat several types of cancer in its early stages. It is easier to treat any abnormal tissue of cancer found in the body than when the symptoms have started to show. By the time the symptoms show, cancer would have already begun to spread and is tougher to treat in that stage.

Many screening tests have proven to reduce the occurrence of death from cancer, as they were detected in its early stage. However, it is important to note that cancer screening brings with it potential harms besides benefits, such as:

  • Some of the screening tests may cause health problems or bleeding.
  • Sometimes the screening tests can show false-positive results, where the test may indicate the presence of cancer when actually it is not present. False-positive test results are often followed by other tests (that may be potentially harmful) to confirm the presence of cancer. This can cause a lot of anxiety to the person.
  • Similarly screening tests can have false-negative results, where the test does not reveal the right picture, but indicates that cancer is not present, when actually it is. False-negative test results can lead to putting off medical care, though symptoms develop. It leads to delay in diagnosis causing much confusion and anxiety to the patient.
  • Possibility of over-diagnosis happens when a screening test correctly shows that a person has cancer, but slow growth would not have harmed that person in his or her lifetime. Such cancers when treated are called overtreatment.

However, it is advisable to discuss the potential harms as well as benefits of different cancer screening tests with your doctor. New Consumer Reports recommends only three of 11 common cancer screening tests, and then only for certain age groups.

Screenings for cancers affecting the bladder, lungs, skin, mouth, prostate, ovaries, pancreas, and testicles are not recommended says John Santa, MD, MPH, director of the Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center. Much of Consumer Reports' recommendations follow the US Preventive Services Task Force guidelines.

What are the recommended cancer screening tests?

  • Cervical cancer:  Pap smear test is recommended to detect cervical cancer for women in the age group of 21 to 30 once in three years. If a HPV test was already done, then women between 30 and 65 can get it done once in five years. Women above 65 years ( if screened regularly earlier) and below 21 can skip screening.
  • Colon cancer: People in the age group of 50-75 must get screened regularly for colon cancer, and those older must go by their doctor’s advice. The screening includes a colonoscopy that examines the complete colon from the start to the end. Colonoscopy, sigmoidoscopy, and high-sensitivity fecal occult blood tests (FOBTs) have shown to reduce the colon cancer deaths. Screening younger than 50 is not recommended unless, the risk is high.
  • Breast cancer: Mammograms are recommended in women in the age group of 50 to 75 every two years. Those 40 to 49 or 75 and older must discuss with their doctor before going for the test. The cancer society recommends yearly mammograms after age 40 and as long as healthy. Mammograms have been shown to reduce the death risk from the disease.

Is there evidence that cancer screening helps reduce the cause of death?

Some Screening Tests Have Been Shown to Reduce Cancer Deaths:

  • Colonoscopy, sigmoidoscopy, and high-sensitivity fecal occult blood tests (FOBTs) for Colorectal Cancer: These tests have all been shown to reduce deaths from colorectal cancer. Colonoscopy and sigmoidoscopy help detect colorectal cancer by observing colon growths (polyps) which can be removed before they turn cancerous.
  • Low-dose helical computed tomography for Lung Cancer : This test has been shown to reduce lung cancer deaths among heavy smokers ages 55 to 74.
  • Mammography for breast cancer: Mammography has been shown to reduce mortality from breast cancer in the ages 40 to 74, especially above 50 years.
  • Pap test and human papillomavirus (HPV) testing for Cervical Cancer: Getting this test done has shown to reduce the incidence of cervical cancer deaths as it helps to detect  abnormal cells so that they are treated before the cells become cancerous.

Other Screening Tests include:

  • Alpha-fetoprotein blood test for liver cancer
  • Breast MRI for harmful mutations in the breast
  • CA-125 test to detect ovarian cancer, though not an effective ovarian cancer test,  it has proved to help reduce the recurrence.
  • Clinical breast exams and regular breast self-exams: Routine examination of the breasts by health care providers or by women themselves
  • PSA test to detect Prostate Cancer involves a blood test with digital rectal exam
  • Skin exams for skin cancer
  • Transvaginal ultrasound imaging test for detecting ovarian cancer risk.
  •  Virtual colonoscopy for colon and rectum to detect colorectal cancer.

Sometimes a regular health check-up can also show some signs, which can be further investigated for confirmation of the disease. Therefore periodic health-checkups especially if you have a family history of cancer, it is very important to seek your doctor's advice and get the necessary test done.


*Disclaimer: This is not medical advice. The content is for educational purposes only. Please contact your doctor for any health care issues.