What Are the Different Ways to Detect Cancer Early?

Detecting cancer early on its development can lead to better patient outcomes and a higher chance of survival. Early cancers are often smaller and have not yet metastasised, meaning they haven’t spread to other organs or lymph nodes within the body.

Thanks to the advancements in screening and diagnostic technologies, healthcare professionals are now able to detect the presence of cancerous cells shortly after they develop. They are also able to provide a wider range of treatment options to tackle cancer and potentially eradicate it completely, enabling patients to enter remission.

Below, we’ve covered some of the key methods used for early cancer detection. You can learn more about detecting cancer early by clicking here.

Screening Tests

Early cancers tend to be easier to treat due to being smaller in size and localised to one area of the body. Because of this, there are a range of screening methods that can be used to identify and measure cancerous tumours, including the following:

  • Mammography – used for breast cancer screening and capture an x-ray image of the breast tissue, enabling identification of tissue masses and breast cancer.
  • Pap smear – used to screen for cervical cancer by identifying the presence of precancerous or cancerous cells.
  • Colonoscopy – an invasive procedure that uses a flexible tube with a camera on the end of it to look in detail at the tissues in the colon and rectum.
  • Computed Tomography (CT) colonography – used as an alternative to traditional colonoscopy by scanning the colon to identify polyps and abnormalities.

Blood Tests

Blood tests to screen for cancers may include:

  • Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) test – measures the level of PSA in the blood.
  • Tumour markers – a test that measures the levels of specific compounds in the blood that are produced by cancer cells (tumor markers).
  • Complete Blood Count (CBC) – assess the number and types of various blood cells to indicate the presence of blood cancers.

Imaging Techniques

Common imaging techniques to screen for cancers include:

  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) – uses magnetic fields and radio waves to create images of soft tissues, enabling the detection of tumour masses in organs.
  • Ultrasound – uses high-frequency sound waves to aid in the detection of tumours in the tissues.
  • X-rays – uses high-energy radiation to view the bones and some organs and bones to help with the identification of tissue abnormalities or cancers.
  • Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scan – used to detect areas of increased metabolic activity in the body, indicating the presence of cancerous tumours.

Genetic Testing

The presence of certain genes in the genome can indicate a person’s predisposition or risk of developing certain cancers. If an individual is found to have one of these genes, they may be offered long-term surveillance screening for quick identification of an associated cancer. A common example of such genes includes the BRCA genes (BRCA1 and BRCA2), which can mutate and increase the risk of breast and ovarian cancers.

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