What you should know about detecting cancer early

February 07, 2018 | by Amaryllis Gil, MD

You’ve heard it before: cancer is most treatable when it is detected early. So what does this mean for you? How can you make sure you detect a problem early — or, better yet, do your part to not get cancer? It all comes down to taking care of yourself and being educated. Here are three things you should know about detecting cancer early:

1. The number one way you can take care of yourself is by visiting your primary care physician (PCP) regularly. Your primary care physician can track your health over time, and recommend certain screenings so you can catch health issues early, before they become a problem.

2. Educate yourself. Know your family medical history and your personal risk for certain cancers. These cancers can be detected early through regular screenings: 

  • Breast
  • Cervical
  • Colorectal
  • Head and neck
  • Lung
  • Prostate
  • Skin

Research on detecting cancer early continues to advance. Scientists from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine are making progress on a new type of blood test called CancerSEEK. CancerSEEK screens for multiple types of cancers, including cancers that lack advanced screenings— and it’s all done through a blood test.

Researchers from Johns Hopkins took blood samples from 1,005 patients with one of eight different cancer types. They found that CancerSEEK was able to reliably identify tumors in 70 percent of the cases.

Scientists also used CancerSEEK on 812 healthy people with no history of cancer to make sure the test only picked up genuine cancers. Out of 812 healthy people, only seven were flagged as positive. Researchers are continuing to determine whether these seven were false positives or indeed had early-stage cancer with no symptoms.

3. Knowing the signs and symptoms to look for is also key to preventing cancer, or catching it early. If you notice any new changes to your body, such as a lump in your breast, don’t just assume it will go away. It is best to see your doctor to rule out the cause.

Here are more serious symptoms that you shouldn’t ignore:

  • Weight loss without trying
  • Fever or fatigue that doesn’t improve with rest
  • Pain or skin changes
  • Change in bowel or bladder habits
  • Sores that do not heal
  • White spots in the mouth Unusual bleeding
  • Indigestion or trouble swallowing
  • Nagging cough or hoarseness

Having one of these symptoms does not mean you have cancer, but if you notice any changes to your body or overall health, contact your doctor. Even if your symptom does not have anything to do with cancer, your doctor can find out what it is and help treat it.

Related blogs:

Detect cancer early with regular checkups and screenings

Does a lump always mean cancer?

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