Cancer screening tests
Cancer screening means checking your body for cancer before you have symptoms. Regular cancer screening tests can detect breast, cervical, and colon cancers while treatment works best. A lung cancer screening is recommended for some high-risk people.
Recommended cancer screening tests
The US. CDC supports breast, cervical, colorectal, and colon cancer screening as recommended by the Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF).
Mammograms are the best way to find breast cancer early when treatment is easy.
A Pap test can detect abnormal cells in the uterus, which can turn into cancer. The HPV test looks for the virus (human papillomavirus) that causes these cell changes. Pap tests can also detect cervical cancer early when the chances of a cure are very high.
Colorectal (colon) cancer
Colorectal cancer almost always develops from previous polyps (abnormal growths) in the colon or rectum. Screening tests can find polyps early so they can be removed before they become cancerous. Screening tests can also find colorectal cancer at an early stage when treatment is working best.
The USPSTF recommends annual low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) lung cancer screening for people with a history of heavy smoking who have already quit smoking or have quit in the past 15 years and are between the ages of 55 and 80.
Detection of other types of cancer
Screening for ovarian, pancreas, prostate, testicular, and thyroid cancer has not been shown to reduce mortality from these cancers. The USPSTF has not found enough evidence to assess the balance of benefits and risks of screening for bladder cancer and oral cancer in adults without symptoms and a doctor’s visual skin test to screen for skin cancer in adults.
Cancer screening is the exam for cancer (or abnormal cells that turn cancerous) in asymptomatic people. Cancer screening tests help doctors diagnose and treat a wide variety of cancers before they cause symptoms. Early detection is important because when abnormal tissue or cancer is found early, treatment can be easier. When symptoms appear, cancer has begun to spread and is difficult to treat. Numerous cancer screening tests have been shown to find cancer early and reduce the chance of dying from that cancer. These tests are described on the cancer screening tests page.
Be aware that cancer screening tests can have potential risks and benefits.
- Some cancer screening tests can cause bleeding or other health problems.
- Cancer screening tests can give false-positive results, meaning that the test is present even if there is no cancer. False-positive test results are worrisome and often follow additional tests and procedures, which can also be harmful.
- Cancer screening tests can give false-negative results, meaning the test indicates that there is no test despite cancer. False-negative test results can give false assurances, which can lead to a delay in diagnosis and cause a person to seek medical attention even if symptoms are present.
- Screening leads to a higher diagnosis, that is, a screening test correctly shows that a person has cancer, but the cancer is growing slowly and will not harm that person for the rest of their life. Treating these cancers is called overtreatment.
It helps people talk to their doctors about the dangers of potential cancer screenings.