Some types of cancer can be found before they cause symptoms. Checking for cancer, or for conditions that may lead to cancer, in people who have no symptoms is called screening. Screenings can help physicians find and treat some types of cancer early, generally allowing treatment to be more effective. However, not all types of cancer have screening tests and some tests are only for people with specific genetic risks.
The following content from the American Cancer Society provides information on some of the most widely used screening tests for common cancers. Please speak to your health care provider for additional information.
Breast cancer is sometimes found after symptoms appear, but many women with breast cancer have no symptoms. This is why regular breast screenings are so important. Annual mammograms can help find breast cancer at an early stage, when treatment is most successful.
Mammograms are low-dose X-rays of the breast. A mammogram can often find breast changes that could be cancer years before physical symptoms develop. Research shows that women who have regular mammograms are more likely to have breast cancer found early, are less likely to need aggressive treatment like surgery to remove the breast (mastectomy) and chemotherapy, and are more likely to be cured.
The Breast Center at CARTI offers advanced 3D mammography. Learn more by clicking here.
The best way to find cervical cancer early is to have regular screenings with a Pap test, which may be combined with a test for human papillomavirus or HPV:
- Pap (Papanicolaou) Test: The Pap test is a procedure used to collect cells from the cervix so that they can be tested in the lab for cancerous, or pre-cancerous, cells.
- HPV DNA Test: Doctors can now test for HPV (high-risk or carcinogenic types) that are most likely to cause cervical cancer by looking for pieces of their DNA in cervical cells. The test can be done at the same time as the Pap test, with the same swab or a second swab.
As Pap testing became routine in this country, finding pre-invasive lesions (pre-cancers) of the cervix became far more common than finding invasive cancer. Being alert to any signs and symptoms of cervical cancer can also help avoid unnecessary delays in diagnosis. Early detection greatly improves the chances of successful treatment and can prevent any early cervical cell changes from becoming cancer.
COLON AND RECTUM
Several tests can be used to screen for colorectal cancer. These tests can be divided into two main groups:
- Stool-Based Tests: These tests check the stool, or feces, for signs of cancer. These tests are less invasive and easier to perform, but they need to be done more often.
- Visual Exams: These tests look at the structure of the colon and rectum for any abnormal areas. This is done either with a scope (a tube-like instrument with a light and tiny video camera on the end) put into the rectum, or with special X-ray tests.
- Colonoscopy is a type of visual exam. For this test, the doctor looks at the entire length of the colon and rectum with a colonoscope, a flexible tube about the width of a finger with a light and small video camera on the end. It is inserted into the anus and travels through the rectum and colon. Special instruments can be passed through the colonoscope to biopsy, or sample, or remove any suspicious-looking areas such as polyps, if needed.
The screening tests discussed here are used to look for possible signs of prostate cancer. But these tests can’t tell for sure if you have cancer. If the result of one of these tests is abnormal, you will probably need a prostate biopsy to know for sure if you have cancer.
- Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) Blood Test: PSA is a protein made by cells in the prostate gland, both normal cells and cancer cells. It is mostly found in semen, but a small amount is also found in blood. The PSA level in blood is measured in units called nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL). The chance of having prostate cancer goes up as the PSA level goes up, but there is no set cutoff point that can tell for sure if a man does or doesn’t have prostate cancer. About 15% of men with a PSA below four will have prostate cancer if a biopsy is done. Men with a PSA level between four and 10 have about a 1 in 4 chance of having prostate cancer. If the PSA is more than 10, the chance of having prostate cancer is over 50%.
Digital Rectal Exam (DRE): For a digital rectal exam, the doctor inserts a gloved, lubricated finger into the rectum to feel for any bumps or hard areas on the prostate that might be cancer. The prostate is just in front of the rectum. Prostate cancers often begin in the back part of the gland, and can sometimes be felt during a rectal exam. This exam can be uncomfortable, especially for men who have hemorrhoids, but it usually isn’t painful and only takes a short time. DRE is less effective than the PSA blood test in finding prostate cancer, but it can sometimes find cancers in men with normal PSA levels. For this reason, it might be included as a part of prostate cancer screening.