-        The importance of screening and early detection

Early detection of cancer

Screening can save your life. Whether you have a family medical history, lifestyle, and other factors that indicate that you are at greater risk for cancer, or if you are in a low-risk group with no symptoms of the disease, regular screenings are critical to successfully diagnosing and treating cancer. Early detection of cancer greatly increases the chances for successful treatment. In the early stages of cancer, there are often no symptoms, which is why screening is so important.

There are two major components of early detection of cancer: education to promote early diagnosis and screening.

Recognizing possible warning signs of cancer and taking prompt action leads to early diagnosis. Increased awareness of possible warning signs of cancer, among physicians, nurses and other health care providers as well as among the general public, can have a great impact on the disease. Some early signs of cancer include lumps, sores that fail to heal, abnormal bleeding, persistent indigestion, and chronic hoarseness. Early diagnosis is particularly relevant for cancers of the breast, cervix, mouth, larynx, colon and rectum, and skin.

What Is Cancer Screening?

Some key points to remember…

Screening tests can help find cancer at an early stage, before symptoms appear. When abnormal tissue or cancer is found early, it may be easier to treat or cure. By the time symptoms appear, the cancer may have grown and spread. This can make the cancer harder to treat or cure.

It is important to remember that when your doctor suggests a screening test, it does not always mean he or she thinks you have cancer. Screening tests are done when you have no cancer symptoms.

There are different kinds of screening tests and include the following:

Physical exam and history: An exam of the body to check general signs of health, including checking for signs of disease, such as lumps or anything else that seems unusual. A history of the patient’s health habits and past illnesses and treatments will also be taken.

Laboratory tests: Medical procedures that test samples of tissue, blood, urine, or other substances in the body.

Imaging procedures: Procedures that make pictures of areas inside the body.

Genetic tests: Tests that look for certain gene mutations (changes) that are linked to some types of cancer.


Screening tests do sometime come with risks however, such as false results. False-positive results can lead to increased anxiety or in the case of False-negative testing, may delay the seeking of medical care, even where there are symptoms present.

There are no guarantees

Some cancers never cause symptoms or become life-threatening, but if found by a screening test, the cancer may be treated. There is no way to know if treating the cancer would help the person live longer than if no treatment were given. In both teenagers and adults, there is an increased risk of suicide in the first year after being diagnosed with cancer. Also, treatments for cancer have side effects. For some cancers, finding and treating the cancer early does not improve the chance of a cure or help the person live longer.

There are many organised screening programmes available, such as bowel cancer screening for both men and women, as well as cervical and breast cancer checks for women. To find out what you can do to reduce your risk of cancer and to learn more about the screening services available, visit the Irish Cancer Society website at www.cancer.ie.