3 February 2022 | Cancer, Early Detection
World Cancer Day and the Importance of Cancer Screening
World Cancer Day lands on the 4th of February every year. Led by the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC), this global initiative aims to raise greater awareness of cancer and important actions in better prevention, detection and treatment of the disease. In their 2021 campaign, World Cancer Day made a profound impact on a global scale, with over 800 activities and events in 116 countries.
Astoundingly, 1 in 2 people will develop some form of cancer in their lifetime. As one of the leading causes of death in the world, it’s important that we understand and take the necessary steps now to reduce the risk of developing cancer later. This is where cancer screening can help. People often think that because they don’t have symptoms, cancer screening is not necessary. However, this is far from the truth. In contrast to diagnostic testing which is usually done to find out what is causing certain symptoms, screening tests are different in that they are done on people that do not have symptoms.
Research has shown that the cancer survival rate is 3 times higher with early diagnosis. The ten-year survival is more than 90% for people whose cancer is diagnosed at stage one, compared with 5% for those diagnosed at stage four. The opportunity to screen for cancers and diseases sooner rather than later evidently influences the survival rate.
So, what exactly is cancer screening and why is it important?
What is cancer screening?
Cancer screening refers to looking for cancer before an individual displays symptoms. Cancers are often detected at a later stage, which makes it harder to treat or cure. This is where cancer screening becomes beneficial as it helps detect cancers at an earlier stage, which allows for more effective treatment and recovery.
People often think that when your doctor recommends a cancer screening test, it implies that they think you might have cancer. However, this is not the case at all. Cancer screening tests are done when you have no cancer symptoms.
Types of cancer screening
There are various cancer screening tests available that you can do on a regular basis that helps with the early detection of cancers. The most common tests involve screening for breast, cervical, and colorectal.
It’s important to note that no screening test is 100% accurate. However, a good cancer screening test is one that can find cancer early and contribute to a decrease in cancer death rates in those who develop cancer upon getting a regular screening.
Breast Cancer Screening
Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among women in North America. Mammograms remain the best screening test for most women. It takes an x-ray image of the breast and can find breast cancers when they are small and less likely to spread. Breast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may also be used for those who are at high risk of getting breast cancer. Due to family history, genetic predisposition, or other factors, some women should be screened with MRIs along with mammograms. According to the American Cancer Society, it is recommended that women over the age of 40 should start regular breast cancer screening.
One of the most common reasons that people come to Prenuvo is for cancer screening, including breast cancer screening. Our advanced MRI technology creates comprehensive, precise scans that allow for earlier and more accurate cancer diagnoses. A Prenuvo MRI scan can be used in conjunction with a mammogram to screen for tissue distortion associated with breast cancer.
Mammograms are considered safe and use a low dose of radiation. Comparatively, the breast MRI does not use radiation, however may not be useful for women at average risk as the MRIs may appear abnormal even when there is no cancer. This is why breast MRIs are only used for those at high risk of getting breast cancer.
Cervical Cancer Screening
To screen for cervical cancer, a Pap test (or Pap smear) is often used to find abnormal cells in the cervix before they become cancerous. During a Pap test, the doctor or nurse will insert a small stick or brush into the vagina to scrape the surface of the cervix to obtain a sample of the cell to be examined.
Depending on the results from the Pap test, an Human Papillomavirus Virus (HPV) test may also be conducted. Although the HPV test will not tell you if you have cervical cancer, it will detect the presence of HPV in your system, which is the virus that causes cervical cancer.
Cervical cancer usually has no symptoms so it’s important to get regular screening to prevent it from developing down the line. If cervical cancer is caught in the early stages, the chance of survival is more than 85%.
Colorectal (Colon) Cancer Screening
Colorectal cancer occurs as growth or lesion in the tissue that lines the inner surface of the colon or rectum. It is the third most common type of non-skin cancer in both men and women and is the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States.
There are several methods that can be used to test for colorectal cancer. These tests can be divided into two main categories:
- Stool-based tests
- Visual (structure) exams
These tests examine the stool (or feces) for possible signs of colorectal cancer and can be done at home. It’s a non-invasive procedure so is often preferred over other tests like a colonoscopy. However, these tests need to be done more often and if the results indicate any abnormalities, a colonoscopy will be required as a subsequent assessment of colorectal cancer.
Visual (structural) exams
These tests look at the structure of the colon and rectum for any abnormal areas. Doctors may conduct a colonoscopy or flexible sigmoidoscopy, whereby a flexible tube with a light and small video camera at the end, is inserted into the anus and through to the rectum and colon.
Special imaging tests like Computed Tomography (CT) colonography can also be used to detect abnormalities in the colon and rectum. It uses a CT scanner to produce images of the colon and rectum from outside the body. This test may be useful for people who don’t want to do more invasive tests like a colonoscopy. However, like any other type of CT scan, this test also exposes you to a small amount of radiation.
Why is cancer screening important?
Cancer is often diagnosed in its later stages, where the chances of survival become slim, treatment becomes less effective and quality of life can quickly decline. A large factor that contributes to the delayed diagnosis is that many patients are unaware of, or sometimes ignore, the symptoms of cancer. There is a stigma around attitudes towards seeking medical care, as well as the fear and embarrassment of a cancer diagnosis. Physicians can also play a part in the late diagnosis by failing to recognize key signs of concern and failing to encourage those to further investigate their symptoms.
Cancer screening aims to find cancer before symptoms appear, while the tumor is still small and confined. This is when the chance of a cure is the highest. Research has demonstrated time and time again that early detection allows for the best chance for successful treatment.
Now, as with all screening tests, it doesn’t come without some limitations. Sometimes, patients may receive false-positive results whereby the test results suggest that they have cancer even though you don’t. On the contrary, the test may also display false-negative results, whereby the test may not detect cancer even though it is present.
Who should get cancer screening tests?
Some people may benefit more than others when it comes to cancer screening. The American Cancer Society recommends cancer screening for those who are at a higher than average risk of cancer due to their family history, genetic disorder, or other factors. Otherwise, generally, people from 45 years of age are able to start cancer screening.
Help reduce your cancer risk
Considering how prevalent cancer is within our society, it is vital that we take the necessary initiatives now to help reduce our risk of developing cancer later. Getting a Prenuvo scan can help you gain reassurance with the state of your health and monitor any potential abnormalities that may arise. If you’re interested in incorporating regular cancer screening from Prenuvo, contact our team now.