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Screening refers to the use of simple tests across a healthy population in order to identify individuals who have disease, but do not yet show symptoms. Screening tests a group of people in the population for signs of a disease when treatment is still possible. Tests are offered to people who may have an increased risk of a particular disease because of their age, gender or other factors. Examples include breast cancer screening using mammography and cervical cancer screening using cytology screening methods, including Pap smears. Screening programs should be undertaken only when their effectiveness has been demonstrated; when resources (personnel, equipment, etc.) are sufficient to cover nearly the entire target group; when facilities exist for confirming diagnoses and for treatment and follow-up of those with abnormal results; and when prevalence of the disease is high enough to justify the effort and costs of screening.

If cancer is detected earlier, it can better be treated. The treatments have less adverse reactions and the eventual relapses are limited.

Screening looks for early signs of disease
Cancer screening programs look for early signs of the disease or indications that a person is more likely to develop the disease in the future. In most cases, early detection of cancer increases the chances of successful treatment.

It is important to remember that a screening test cannot diagnose cancer. To make a cancer diagnosis, further investigations are necessary to confirm the findings of a screening test.

Different Types of Screening Programs:
There are three different approaches to screening:

  • Mass (population-based) screening - an entire population in a certain age group is tested: for example, cervical cancer screening.
  • Selective screening - screening of selected groups of people in high-risk categories: for example, genetic screening of people with a strong family history of breast cancer.
  • Opportunistic screening - screening tests offered to people who are being examined for other reasons, as part of a routine medical check-up; for example, genetic screening tests are available for people with an established family history of bowel, breast or skin cancers.

Unfortunately, not every cancer can be screened, but there are 5 important and frequent cancers for which screening is possible and have to be done: uterus cervix, colorectal, skin, breast and prostate.