Cancer screening: What, When and Why?

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Cancer screening: What, When and Why?
Image courtesy Dr. Cecil Fox

In the previous article- “Cancer: Myth, Mystery or Monster?” we discussed in brief what cancer is and how its discovery unveiled the mysteries of several diseases that were unexplained for centuries.

The better we understood the cluster of oncologic diseases, the better we learned how to deal with them. The medical experts were then able to diagnose the cases of cancer at better and at treatable stages. There was also a significant rise in the discovery of treatment options. It was, then, possible to educate the people to suspect the spectrum of diseases earlier and uproot it from the body. Unfortunately, an advanced stage of cancer still remains in the danger zone, the patient swaying between life and death. Hence, through this article we will talk about how to diagnose the problem at an earlier stage.

What is cancer screening?

Cancer screening is done for those cancers which are common and/or more prevalent in a specific population. It is a way by which a doctor searches for possibility of early stage cancer in the body of a healthy individual.

The goal is to search for those cancers that can be found as early as possible, before a person has any symptoms.

Does it mean I have cancer/ am I sick?

No! Absolutely not! Cancer is screened in an individual who is otherwise in good health. There are no signs and symptoms of cancer whatsoever. But, since these specific cancers are so common in the population, keeping a high suspicion, the person is screened for and if the cancer is detected early, the treatment can be started with best possible results.

Why should I care about getting screened for cancer?

As I discussed in my precious article, cancer arises from a small lesion. There is a “pre-cancer” stage which progresses further to cancer stage. Now who doesn’t want to live long and enjoy every single day of sunshine with his/her family? If a doctor can detect the cancer early, it can be treated the best and the best results have been seen with many cancers when treated in early stages and patients have completed the normal healthy life after the treatment.

How to approach?

Various cancers have different screening protocols. Ask your doctor:

  • Which cancer is more important for screening?
  • What are various screening tests?
  • When do I come to you for cancer screening?

In my further posts I shall tell the readers about individual cancer screening protocols in brief.

If my doctor tells me that my results are abnormal, do I have cancer?  — Not for sure! A positive screening test means patient needs further investigations. Relax till the doctor does the confirmation tests. Even if the cancer is confirmed, you should feel happy that the cancer was diagnosed early and now may be possible to be treated in the best way!

Which cancers are people screened for?

Various common cancers which are commonly screened in patients are:

  • Breast cancer– Through “mammogram.” The protocol in India is to make every woman undergo annual screening starting 35 years of age. Various countries differ slightly in their protocols. Work with your family practitioner to know more about it.
  • Colon cancerRecommended screening at age of People with family history or certain medical conditions are started screening at younger age.
  • Cervical cancer– The screening tool is called “Pap smear.” Cervical cancer screening often begins at an age of 21.


Other cancers less commonly screened for are:

  • Prostate cancer
  • Lung cancer
  • Ovarian cancer

Consult your family physician today for more details and your follow up chart for various screening tests.

Be healthy, be wise, live long and prosperous!!!