Early detection of cancer PDF Print E-mail
Share on MySpace

Some cancers can be detected at an early stage when treatment is likely to be more effective. Tests have been developed that can detect these cancers well before any symptoms are present.

Tests are currently available for breast cancer, prostate cancer and bowel cancer.

Breast cancer screening

Breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in women after non-melanoma skin cancer and causes the most cancer deaths. Early detection and appropriate treatment can significantly improve breast cancer survival.


A mammogram is an x-ray of the beast. This test may find tumors that are too small to feel. A mammogram may also find ductal carcinoma in situ, abnormal cells in the lining of a breast duct, which may become invasive cancer in some women. The ability of a mammogram to find breast cancer may depend on the size of the tumor, the density of the breast tissue, and the skill of the radiologist. Mammograms are less likely to find breast tumors in women younger than 50 years than in older women. This may be because younger women have denser breast tissue that appears white on a mammogram. A tumor also appears white on a mammogram, which makes it hard to find.

Prostate cancer screening

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer after non-melanoma skin cancer.

Prostate cancer is complex - while some tumours grow quickly and prove lethal, others grow slowly and do not cause any harm in a normal lifespan.

Prostate cancer is more common in older men and those with a family history of the disease.

Tests are available that may help to pick up the disease, however they are not currently shown to be effective for population-based screening. Large international trials are underway to try to determine the effectiveness of the Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) blood test.

Bowel cancer screening

Bowel (or colorectal) cancer is common cancer and affects both men and women.

Bowel cancer screening aims to detect bowel cancer at an early stage (in people with no symptoms), when treatment is more likely to be effective.

Bowel cancer screening can also detect polyps. These are not cancers, but may develop into cancers over time. They can easily be removed, reducing the risk of bowel cancer developing.