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Screening refers to tests and exams used to find a disease, such as cancer, in people who do not have any symptoms

Screening tests can help find cancer at an early stage, before symptoms appear. When abnormal tissue or cancer is found early, it may be easier to treat or cure. By the time symptoms appear, the cancer may have grown and spread. This can make the cancer harder to treat or cure.

It is important to remember that when your doctor suggests a screening test, it does not always mean he or she thinks you have cancer. Screening tests are done when you have no cancer symptoms.

For people aged 20 or older having periodic health exams, a cancer-related check-up should include health counseling and, depending on a person’s age and gender, exams for cancers of the:

  • thyroid
  • oral cavity
  • skin
  • lymph nodes
  • testes
  • ovaries

Is screening for cancer effective?

Between 3% and 35% of cancer deaths could be avoided through screening.

The risk of developing many types of cancer can be reduced by practicing healthy lifestyle habits, such as eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise, and not smoking. Also, the sooner a cancer is found and treatment begins, the better the chances are that the treatment will be successful.

It's important to understand even though most screening tests are noninvasive or minimally invasive, some do present small risks of serious complications. Some tests can also produce false-positives, which may lead to anxiety and unnecessary invasive diagnostic procedures.

Even with some potential drawbacks, cancer screenings should be an important part of your health care. The National Comprehensive Cancer Network and the American Cancer Society recommend screening people of average risk for colorectal cancer, cervical cancer and breast cancer.

Deciding to participate in a cancer screening is a personal health decision that should be based on a conversation between you and your doctor.