Ways to Screen for Cancer


What You Should Know About Cancer Screening

Cancer screening means undergoing a test for cancer before showing any symptoms. These tests can help find cancer at an early stage, even before symptoms start to show up.

There is a better probability of curing cancer when it is diagnosed early. By the time symptoms show up, conditions may have already worsened, making cancer more difficult to cure.

Remember that screening tests are done when the patient is not showing cancer symptoms. Taking this test does not mean the patient has cancer.

Kinds of Screening Tests

There are different ways to test for cancer:

  • History and Physical Test – a test to check signs of health and signs of illnesses like lumps or any unusual symptoms. It includes a record of the patient’s health habits and a history of his past illnesses and treatments.
  • Laboratory tests – laboratory exams that involve analyzing of blood, urine, tissue and other substances in the body.
  • Imaging – tests that involve the use of imaging technology
  • Genetic tests – search for genetic transformations

Risks of Cancer Screening

Screening tests can help doctors find cancer at an earlier, more treatable stage. These may help improve the possibility of survival, but they also put the patient in some risks, like:

  • Bleeding – This can be caused by some screening procedures, like colon cancer screening. Using colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy, they might scratch the lining of the colon in the process, and cause bleeding.
  • Anxiety – The test can cause anxiety if the result shows a false-positive result, meaning the test shows the existence of cancer which is not really there. There will be more worry because it may be followed by other tests, which might open up the possibility of more risks and more expenses.
  • Endangerment – The patient is put in danger when the result shows a false negative, meaning the test showed there is no cancer when it really exists. The unknowing patient may postpone cancer treatment until the symptoms start showing, which may already be too late.
  • Uselessness – Sometimes diagnosing the existence of cancer may not help the person in any way anymore, if cancer has reached the incurable stage.
  • Overtreatment – Sometimes a screening test correctly shows that a person has cancer, but the cancer is growing gradually and would not have affected that person in his or her lifetime and did not need any treatment.
  • Side effects – Some cancers may still be treated if diagnosed early. But being tested and being diagnosed to have cancer sometimes cause depression and increased risk for suicide.

Cancer is not a simple matter; the patient’s life is on the line. It will be helpful for the patients to talk to their doctors to discuss the benefits and the possible harms of undergoing cancer screening, to avoid misunderstandings and problems in the end.