Cancer - To screen or not to screen?

Cancer

Everyone has in some way been touched by cancer. Whether it's a loved one, a colleague, or even a 'national treasure', or whether they've had to contend with their own diagnosis or had a cancer 'scare' the disease is insidious in its reach, affecting millions of people every day.


Helen Marsden

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Everyone has in some way been touched by cancer. Whether it's a loved one, a colleague, or even a "national treasure", or whether they've had to contend with their own diagnosis or had a cancer "scare" the disease is insidious in its reach, affecting millions of people every day. A World Cancer Day report estimates that by 2030 there will be 12 million cancer deaths per year with the highest incidence in developed nations, but with developing nations catching up fast as they adopt a Western lifestyle. Which is why, on World Cancer Day, we thought it a relevant time to talk about cancer screening.

The UK is in an unenviable position, suffering a high incidence of cancer diagnoses and yet at the same time having the one of the lowest survival rates in Europe. One of the reasons put forward for this has been poor screening attendance meaning that by the time cancer is discovered, it may already be in advanced stages and more difficult to treat. Other reasons cited are a lack of awareness of signs and symptoms, knowing when to go to your GP for help, as well as delays in medical treatment.

There are also mixed messages about certain cancer screening tests, with some doctors supporting them and others dismissing them as useless and potentially harmful. You only need to read the recent prostate screening article in the Daily Mail which highlights the polarised views, to see how confusing this can be for many people.

One strong cancer message is that "prevention is better than cure". We wholeheartedly agree with this which is why we have developed our health and lifestyle tracker in MyMedichecks.com to encourage our patients and customers to adopt healthier lifestyles and reduce their risks. Seeing your dashboard light up in red over your diet, smoking, or alcohol consumption brings home that not all your habits are as healthy as they could be!

Another strong message is that "early detection saves lives" which most people intuitively agree with. This is where cancer screening comes in and where a simple home-to-lab blood test for say prostate cancer or ovarian cancer, or a discreet and easy-to-use stool test for bowel cancer might mean the difference between catching a cancer early while it is more easily treatable or finding out at a more advanced stage.

We acknowledge that cancer screening tests have limitations – that they might identify benign conditions, that a high reading doesn't necessarily mean cancer or even that a low reading doesn't mean you don't have cancer. We know that sometimes they cause unnecessary worry, but at other times they save lives. However, we firmly believe that screening has a place in longer-term monitoring so that a sudden change from one year to the next might just be the trigger your doctor needs to investigate further. Ultimately we believe in the individual's right to choose – to choose whether to have screening and at what age to have screening. Without screening it is difficult to see how detection rates, and ultimately survival rates, will improve.


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