Early diagnosis: These five cancer screenings are recommended | Science| In-depth reporting on science and technology | DW | 17.08.2016
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Science

Early diagnosis: These five cancer screenings are recommended

The earlier doctors can detect changes in tissue, the better the chances of removing a cancer with few complications. These important cancer screenings can save lives and prevent tumor development.

Early diagnosis is vitally important in preventing cancer. It's easier to treat small and limited tumors than larger ones, and the chances of success are higher. Some types of cancer even arise from precancerous stages that have not yet turned malignant but indicate an increased risk of eventually spawning a tumor.

This is true of colon cancer, skin cancer and cervical cancer. We look at five screenings that are well advised and may easily prevent serious or terminal conditions.

Colon cancer

A colonoscopy is entirely painless and can be used to remove benign polyps, a precancerous condition. The bowel cleansing is much less unpleasant nowadays than it used to be, when the patient had to down four liters of sodium sulfate. The cleansing solution used now tastes better and has been reduced to two liters.

Solutions of just 150 milliliters administered twice are also possible. The rest of the liquid required can be drunk as water or tea. During the colonoscopy, the patient is put under a short anesthesia and feels nothing.

Colon cancer is a particularly malicious type that might not cause any symptoms at all for years during its early stages. But if colon cancer is not diagnosed in time, it can turn fatal. Screenings could prevent as many as 80 percent of such cases.

Skin cancer

Screening for skin cancer examines all the skin on the body, even places never exposed to the sun, such as the creases beneath the hips, around the genitals and behind the ears.

A good dermatologist can identify your skin type at a glance and focus on aspects that demand special attention. If you have lots of moles or liver spots, your risk of contracting malignant melanoma are far higher than that of people with no liver spots. The doctor should be increasingly vigilant, depending on the spots' number and shape.

If you have light skin and lots of freckles, your risk of developing basal cell carcinoma is greater. This type of skin cancer is more common than melanoma. The chances of successful treatment and recovery from both types are nintey percent and over if they are diagnosed in time.

Breast cancer

The mammography is currently the most widely practiced type of examination of female breasts as a means of detecting pathological changes in the tissue early on.

A woman during mammography (Photo: colourbox/Monkey Business Images)

A mammography includes x-ray pictures taken from two different angles

The doctors look for signs of early stages of breast cancer, in particular lumps too small to be felt and microcalcifications. Mammographies also allow more detailed examination of lumps big enough to be felt.

To achieve high-quality and informative images, the breast must be compressed between two radiolucent plexiglass plates. Two images are taken of each breast from different angles. The procedure may be more or less painful depending on the type of breast tissue and status of the cycle.

Prostate cancer

This is the leading malignant tumor carcinoma afflicting men, generally after their fortieth birthday. For this reason, it's highly recommended that middle-aged men go to screenings. This type of cancer is often diagnosed too late, since it exhibits almost no symptoms in its early stages.

An ulrasound diagnosis for prostate cancer (Picture alliance/ dpa)

An ultrasound diagnosis for prostate cancer

The examining doctor palpates the prostate with a gloved finger inserted through the rectum. A healthy prostate is elastic. Detecting a hard lump is a first indication of possible cancer.

The prostate is then examined by ultrasound, also through the rectum. The urologist should also closely inspect the genitals externally. In addition, a prostate screening can reveal abnormally high concentrations of an antigen specific to the prostate in the bloodstream: another alarm signal. But the screening is highly controversial, so qualified advice on the subject should always be sought.

Cervical cancer

A majority of sexually active women will become infected with human papillomavirus (HPV) at least once in their lives. Generally, such infections heal without causing unpleasant symptoms or malignancies. But some human papillomaviruses can trigger cancer.

An MRI diagnosis for cervical cancer. (Copyright: picture alliance/chromorange/Media for Medical)

An MRI diagnosis for cervical cancer

The primary examination for early detection is a simple Pap test, or cervical smear. It can reveal precancerous changes in the cervix and increase the chances of detecting and treating them before they develop into cervical cancer.

Abnormal Pap smear results are not direct evidence of cancer. Even if precancerous conditions are found, the afflicted tissue can often be completely removed. Nowadays, doctors advise girls and young women to get a vaccine against the HP-virus.

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