Cancer is one of the world’s biggest killers and scientists continue to work hard on improving treatment in order to save more lives. Screening means looking for cancer, which is caused by abnormal cell growth, in a person before he or she exhibits any symptoms.
The disease can affect almost every part of the body and due to the body’s sensitivity, different screening methods are needed to adequately detect it as early as possible.
Thanks to the general public’s participation in the tests, more people can be treated in earlier stages, thus greatly heightening their chance of survival. Furthermore, health professionals can gain a better understanding of who is most at risk of getting cancer and researchers can act upon patient feedback in order to improve the service offered.
Below are some of the most common types of cancer and the most popular screening techniques associated with them.
Breast Cancer Screening
A mammogram is an x-ray taken of the breast. This can be part of a screening, whereby two x-rays are taken of each breas. These are designed to pick up tumours and small calcium deposits indicating the presence of cancer.
A diagnostic mammogram screening occurs after a sign of cancer has already been detected. This procedure takes longer, as more x-rays need to be taken to obtain a clearer view.
The National Cancer Institute (NCI) recommends that women age 40 and over should have a mammogram every 1 to 2 years.
A recent study supported by the NCI has also found that Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), commonly used to detect brain tumours, has proven to be effective in picking up cancer in already diagnosed womens’ other breast. In many cases, this was missed by mammography.
Cervical Cancer Screening
A Pap test is a method of testing tissue in order to detect any abnormalities and treat them before cancer can develop.
This procedure is not dissimilar to a normal smear test. A health professional collects cells from the cervix and sends them off to a lab for testing.
The NCI advises women to go for their first test when they are 21 years old, or 3 years after they first have sexual intercourse, and return every 1 to 3 years. According to the NHS, women in the UK receive their first invitation to attend a test aged 25 and are encouraged to repeat their visit once every 3 years.
Colorectal Cancer Screening
Colonoscopy involves the insertion of a “colonoscope“ through the anus, allowing a clear view of the colon and picking up any abnormalities such as cancer and precancerous polyps.
A Fecal Occult Blood Test checks for hidden blood in the stool and can also help detect colorectal cancer early on, thus preventing deaths.
The risk of contracting colorectal/bowel cancer increases with age and is most common in people over the age of 50. In the UK, the NHS offers screening to all men and women over the age of 60.
Images: Wikimedia Commons, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Breast(WW).jpg, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Multiple_Carcinoid_Tumors_of_the_Small_Bowel_1.jpg