Why is early detection essential for cancer prevention?

Why is early detection essential for cancer prevention?

Every year, millions of cancer patients could be saved from premature death and suffering if they had timely access to early detection and treatment. Treatment costs rise substantially and the need for palliative care services increases unnecessarily, without early detection, thus indicating the need for cancer detection at the earliest.

In broad terms, Early detection focuses on detection of symptomatic or high risk patients promptly to provide best successful treatment at possible stages. It includes two main components: early diagnosis and screening.

Early diagnosis includes patient awareness of signs and symptoms of cancer for improving diagnosis before the disease becomes advanced or metastatic whereas screening involves use of tests in asymptomatic and healthy populations to identify individuals with any abnormality suggestive of specific cancer.

People diagnosed earlier with cancer have improved survival rates along with better experiences of care, lower treatment morbidity, and improved quality of life compared to those who are diagnosed late. Therefore, every person should be aware of these early detection methods to live healthily and happily.

Let's explore early diagnosis and screening of cancer in little detail:

Early diagnosis

Raising awareness regarding the disease and primary prevention are the key to early diagnosis of a disease.

Disease Awareness:

Identifying the possible signs and symptoms of the major types of cancer can help a patient to take prompt and possible actions for cancer prevention. An increased level of awareness among the general public will have a significant impact on the overall detection of cancer. It will also enhance the uptake of relevant services and reduce the risk of developing cancers including malignant and advanced tumors. It is the duty of frontline health care workers to provide accurate information about the common risk factors, symptoms and preventive measures of various cancers.

Below is a table of early signs and symptoms of the most common and prevalent cancers:

Types of cancer Signs and symptoms
Breast cancer Lump in the breast, asymmetry, recent nipple retraction, blood stained nipple discharge
Cervical cancer Post-coital bleeding, excessive vaginal discharge
Colon cancer Change in bowel habits, unexplained weight loss, anaemia
Oral cavity cancer White lesions or red lesions, growth or ulceration in mouth
Naso-pharynx cancer Nosebleed, permanent blocked nose, deafness
Larynx cancer Persistent hoarseness of voice
Stomach cancer Upper abdominal pain, indigestion, weight loss
Skin melanoma Brown lesion which grows in irregular borders or areas of patchy colouration that may itch or bleed
Other skin cancers Lesion or sore on skin that does not heal
Urinary bladder cancer Pain, frequent and uneasy urination, blood in urine
Prostate cancer Difficulty in urination, frequent nocturnal urination
Retinoblastoma White spot in the pupil
Testicular cancer Swelling of one testicle

Primary prevention:

The other essential part of cancer primary prevention is the changes and adaptations in lifestyle and diet to avoid things that can lead you towards cancer. Healthy lifestyle, including a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables, regular exercise, being physically active, avoiding tobacco, reduced alcohol intake, getting vaccination and taking prescribed medications or supplements on time will help keep your body healthy and disease-free. .


Testing of healthy and asymptomatic patients at regular time intervals is essential to identify any disease, especially those which do not present any specific symptoms. Therefore, specific screening tests should be carried to determine the pre cancerous lesions or an early stage of cancer. There are various kinds of cancer screening tests which are discussed below:

Self Examination:

Everyone should check themselves to keep an eye on any abnormal growth or changes occurring in the body as this can tumor or cancerous cells. You can look for new mole or changing mole shape, size or color, or bleeding sores.

People should also do self examination regularly to reduce the risk of breast cancer. It will help to reduce the serious implications.

Screening Tests:

Screening tests can prove to be the milestone in the right cancer treatment or cession. These tests help you to find hidden malignant growths, which otherwise can't be seen with self examination. People especially in high-risk groups should definitely go for these tests.

The American Cancer Society has established screening guidelines for certain cancers, the frequency at which these should be done and the age at which the following screening test should begin. These screening test are -

  • Colonoscopy for colorectal cancer

Colonoscopy involves a flexible, lighter, longer tube inside the rectum and entire colon to check the polyps. During the test, doctors can also remove the cancerous growths. This test is also used during the follow-ups to keep an eye on status after treatment.

The people whose family members suffered from colorectal cancer, or suffering from inflammatory bowel disease or genetic syndromes like lynch syndrome or familial adenomatous polyposis are at higher risk of getting colorectal cancer, and therefore should screen regularly.

People from the age of 45 to 75 should start regular screening for colorectal cancer. The people of age 76 or higher should consult a doctor to get screened.

  • Mammography for breast cancer

Mammography actually is the X-ray of the breasts. This test is done to detect early signs of breast cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, women should start screening for breast cancer from the age of 40.

There are some other tips that women should keep in mind before going for mammography:

  • Avoid having mammography the week prior to you get your periods or during periods. This is the time when your breasts might get swollen or tender.
  • You need to undress from your waist up for mammograms, so dress up accordingly.
  • Don't use perfume, deodorants and powder on the day of mammography. These products can lead to white spots on the X-ray pictures.
  • PSA test and Digital rectal exams for prostate cancer

Prostate-specific antigen, PSA is a protein produced by both malignant and normal prostate cells. PSA tests measure the PSA levels in the men's blood to detect prostate malignancy. Digital rectal exam is also used to find any problem within the prostate. In this test, the doctor or nurse feels the patient's prostate to check any associated abnormality.

According to the American Cancer society, Men of age 50 or older should start cancer screening for these tests.

Pap and HPV tests for cervical cancer

Pap Smear test is used to detect the abnormality in cervix and HPV test is done to detect the human papillomavirus virus infection that leads to changes in cervix.

During the Pap test, doctors use metal or plastic instruments, known as speculums, to widen the vagina. After which, the doctor examines the cervix and vagina and collects mucus and cells for further test. In the Pap test, these cells looked if these are normal or not. In the HPV test, the whole process is the same. In this test, the collected cells are checked for HPV infection.

The people from age 21 to 29 can start taking the Pap test. People from age 30 to 65, doctors can recommend Pap, HPV or co-testing as per the patient's condition.

These are the screening tests that people who are at high risk of getting cancer should consider once. But, the over or wrong testing can also exert an adverse impact on your health. You always should consult your physician before going for any testing. The essential points that you must consider before going for these screening tests are -

  • What type of cancer are you going to screen for?
  • What is the correct age for screening?
  • Which test should be done to screen the associated malignancies?
  • How many times did the test need to be done?


Early cancer detection is the next new horizon in cancer research as it could rescue billions of lives around the world. People should be aware of such strategies to defeat cancer. Health system and government organizations both should work collectively to educate people and lead special emphasis on public health programs. It will surely help to lower the financial and personal burden of cancer globally.

Be sure to maintain a healthy lifestyle, and get preventive health checkups regularly for successful treatment and longevity.

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