When should I think about cancer screening?

Cancer is one of those things we all prefer not to think about, hoping that it will affect someone else, but not me. Each year cancer strikes about 4.5% of the global adult population, and approximately 37% of those cases will be terminal. The earlier a case is diagnosed and treatment can begin, the better the chances are of survival. This does not mean though that we should all rush out for an immediate screening, without understanding a little more about cancer itself, in its many different forms and the screening process itself.

Major types of cancer

  • Lung cancer screening is recommended for long term smokers and those with occupational health risk issues, such as coal miners. The recommended screen is a low-dose computed tomography.
  • Breast cancer screening is designed to achieve early diagnosis, the assumption being this will improve outcomes. Mammography’s use is a little controversial, as it may not reduce all-cause mortality and treatments may be detrimental to the patient. It is generally recommended for older women.
  • Prostate cancer generally affects men aged over 50, and a prostate biopsy can identify small cancers that will not be life threatening, but can be over treated, with the subsequent surgery or radiation more harmful than the cancer itself. Most men will have some form of prostate issue when they die, though for most it will not be the cause of death.
  • Bowel cancer screening is preventive if conducted early, as most colorectal cancers form from benign growths called polyps, which can be identified and removed in a colonoscopy. In the U.S.A it is recommended for adults over the age of 50 years.
  • Cervical screening is highly effective at detecting and preventing cervical cancer, though women under the age of 20 are prone to having many abnormal cells which will clear themselves up naturally. Generally the recommendation is for women over the age of 20 to have a screening about every three years.

Other cancers such as oral cancer, pancreatic cancer, skin, bladder, ovarian and testicular are not generally subject to screening, with insufficient evidence available to determine benefits.

Screening risks

If you are going to sign up for a cancer test in Singapore, or anywhere it is important to understand the issues and risks and use a highly experienced and professional organisation. A full body CT scan can pick up cancers, but run the associated risk of increased exposure to radiation. Magnetic Resonance Imaging, or MRI, is not associated with radiation issues and are being evaluated for their use in cancer screening. A major issue with all screening, is that it often picks up what is known as incidentalomas, benign lesions, of no danger, that may be interpreted as a cancer, which can subsequently cause potentially dangerous investigations and treatments.

The rule of thumb seems to be that certain age categories are more likely than others to be affected by differing versions of cancer. If you fall into one of these categories it is advisable to think about some form of check-up. An Internet search will show you the best places in your area to find the professional assistance you are looking for.


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