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Cancer Screening: Your guide to be a better judge

July 18, 2017
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The biggest fear of any patient is to be diagnosed with cancer. The moment you hear the word cancer, you literally freak out thinking its the end of life now.

Nothing wrong with the assumption but it was valid mainly before there were technological advancements made in the field of health and medicine.









Studies show that in 2014, the number of cancer survivors in the United States  were  14.5 million (children and adults).

In 2017, an estimated 1,688,780 people in the United States will be diagnosed with cancer, and 600,920 will die of cancer.

By January 1, 2024, it is estimated that the population of cancer survivors will increase to almost 19 million: 9.3 million males and 9.6 million females.

There have been in numerous medical innovations that have taken place for people to survive cancer, but what we’ll be focusing on today is Cancer Screening. From the time of innovation, it has been a debatable topic whether screening is beneficial or harmful to the individuals.

And for all those who are wondering what basically is cancer screening; cancer screening aims to detect cancer before any symptoms appear. This may involve blood test, urine test, other tests, or medical imaging.

Most doctors suggest patients to start undergoing cancer screenings past a certain age. Some patients are reluctant towards it but stats show that most of the people believe in “Better to be safe than sorry” and hence start with regular cancer screenings.

While this innovation was basically brought into being to ensure more survivors of cancer, it too has some advantages and disadvantages.

There have been countless cases where people undergo various cancer screenings and despite any known risk of cancer. This not only adds to the monetary pricing of the bills of these screenings, but also leads to a large number of false positive results which mislead you to further adding more complex tests which have there own complications.

False positive results on one side lead to complex biopsies with high risk rates, on the other side lead to a serious emotional and mental distress.

Why people continue to support these cancer screenings?

Studies show that the primary reason is because the word cancer freaks out individuals and the stories of cancer survivors is found to be way too compelling. The possibility of you having a known cancer survivor is high hence you tend to feel that making few efforts initially and being safe is better that feeling sorry at a later stage.

The second most significant reason for people to not restrict themselves from being exposed to cancer screenings is that most of the people have now shifted to the concept of medical insurances. So if you have an insurance, its the insurance paying for your tests. So why not take the advantage of it at the right time?

The next on the list is that nowadays doctors too get rewarded for suggesting numerous tests to the patients. It not only adds doctors to the list of best guides in making people aware of the risk of the diseases and the benefits of curing it by diagnosing it at an early stage, but also adds to their monetary benefits. Out of the cost of the screenings that patients undergo, doctors are rewarded with a certain commission. Also to add more to it, doctors feel legitimate if their patient is being diagnosed with cancer at a later stage.

Irrespective of whether cancer screening would benefit the patient or not, doctors don’t hesitate in putting people of the old age to screening. It doesn’t make much sense for old aged people to undergo screenings as they might not be able to reap the benefits of cancer screening as much as a young or middle aged patient, but doctors try putting it as “You may be able to live longer if you undergo the screenings”.

Screening might seem like a cure of cancer to many but it also has its harmful effects on the body, mainly being over diagnosed which lead to adverse effects later on.

There are two types of over diagnosis-

  • the detection of a lesion with essentially no malignant potential (sometimes called “pseudo disease”)
  • the detection of a lesion that is slow-growing enough that the individual will go on to die of a competing cause of death first.

Studies show that the adverse effects of screening tests is usually higher than the benefits of it which is usually due to the over diagnosis.

So it order to prevent over diagnosis, the US Preventive Services Task Force released their Screening Guidelines.

Some of the Screening Guidelines are-

  • Colorectal Cancer –

For 50-75 years fo age-

The USPSTF recommends screening for colorectal cancer using fecal occult blood testing, sigmoidoscopy, or colonoscopy in adults.The risks and benefits of these screening methods vary.



  • Breast Cancer-

For women before the age of 50-
The decision to start regular, biennial screening mammography before the age of 50 years should be an individual one and take patient context into account, including the patient’s values regarding specific benefits and harms.

From 50-74 yrs-
The USPSTF recommends biennial screening mammography for women 50-74 years.

For 75 yrs and above-
The USPSTF concludes that the current evidence is insufficient to assess the benefits and harms of screening mammography in women 75 years and older.



  • Prostate Cancer-

From 55-69 yrs-
The USPSTF recommends that clinicians inform men ages 55 to 69 years about the potential benefits and harms of prostate-specific antigen (PSA)–based screening for prostate cancer. Screening offers a small potential benefit of reducing the chance of dying of prostate cancer. However, many men will experience potential harms of screening, including false-positive results that require additional workup, overdiagnosis and overtreatment, and treatment complications such as incontinence and impotence. The USPSTF recommends individualized decisionmaking about screening for prostate cancer after discussion with a clinician, so that each man has an opportunity to understand the potential benefits and harms of screening and to incorporate his values and preferences into his decision.

For 70yrs and above-
The USPSTF recommends against PSA-based screening for prostate cancer in men age 70 years and older.


I hope the article helped you in better understanding Cancer Screenings and its harms and benefits for you to be a better judge!

Don’t forget to share the information with your friends and family. 🙂


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