Cancer can occur in any part of the body and the disease occurs at different stages and is most curable in its initial stages. This is the main reason why early cancer diagnosis is crucial. A systematic approach called cancer screening is undertaken prior to the appearance of symptoms to diagnose cancer, its kind, and its stage. People benefit from the screening because it makes it easier to treat or cure cancer from its roots when it is discovered early.
Cancer screening aims to detect cancer at an early stage, and the treatment is more effective during its early stages. To treat cancer, it is important to identify the disease’s origin or trigger. Among the common triggers for cancers are habits like smoking or chewing tobacco, consuming alcohol, diet and a lack of physical activities, hormonal factors, viruses, exposure to ultraviolet rays of the sun, infections, hereditary factors, genetic mutations among others.
It is imperative for people to be aware of the changes occurring in their health conditions and the major changes they are having to adopt in their everyday life. Some forms of cancer could show up as a lump or a thickening of the skin that can be felt, unintended loss or gain, darkening or redness of the skin, non-healing sores, or changes to moles, changes in the bowel or bladder movements, regular coughs and difficulty in breathing, difficulty in swallowing, hoarseness of voice, persistent indigestion, or discomfort after having a meal, muscle or joint pains that are unexplained and persistent.
Significance of Cancer Screening
Cancer screening plays a vital role in early detection of cancer which greatly increases the chances for successful treatment. In general, cancer screening helps in detecting any precancerous cells before the symptoms present themselves. The screening can also help in detecting latent or oligosymptomatic cancers at an early stage. Since the screening can detect cancer at an early stage, providing the right treatment can stop the cancerous cells from growing and spreading. Early detection of cancer also results in less treatment in terms of usage of chemicals and therapy. Amongst the cancer survivors, these screening procedures helps in identifying untreated cancer portions and reoccurrences of cancer as well. In recent times, the study of DNA markers has enabled precise detection of most cancers.
Cancer Screening Methods
Some forms of cancer can be diagnosed through physical examinations and each cancer has its own set of screening tests. The common means for screening of cancers include tests for urine and blood, that might help clinicians identify the abnormalities that can be caused by cancer. It includes imaging tests that examine bones and the internal organs in a non-invasive manner. The tests being used nowadays in diagnosing cancer include a bone scan, ultrasound and X-ray, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), positron emission tomography (PET) scan, among others. Some of the common cancer screening tests are as follows:
· Screening mammography – A process of diagnosing and screening breast cancer using low-energy X-rays to examine the human breast.
· Pap tests – A procedure to diagnose cervical cancer or precancerous cells in the colon or the cervix. It is conducted by gently removing and examining the cells from the surface of the cervix and the area around it to identify the potential cancerous cells, which might progress to cause cervical cancer.
· Human papillomavirus (HPV) tests –The tests are conducted along with pap tests and follow the same procedure. The tests predominately focus on identifying Human Papillomavirus (HPV) that might cause cervical cancer or other cancers including cancer of the vulva, vagina, penis or anus.
· Colonoscopy – It is a test that examines swollen, irritated tissues, polyps, or cancer in the large intestine (colon) and rectum. The examination includes a long tube connected with a micro-lens that is inserted into the rectum to identify the cancer-causing cells or tumours.
· Low-dose Computed Tomography (LDCT) – It is a type of radiographic scan that uses x- ray technology to create internal images of the chest. The LDCT of the chest is effective in diagnosing lung cancer at the earliest.
At present, several cancer screening programs are being conducted for the precise diagnosis of cancer. It is essential to consult an oncologist to identify the type of cancer screening that is best suited to one’s symptoms and age. Early detection is the best way to effectively treat the condition and live a longer healthier life.
By: Dr. Amit Sharma, Medical Oncologist, HCG Panda Cancer Centre, Cuttack.