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Relevance of screening cancer in current lifestyle

  • March 17, 2016

Lifestyle changes have increased the risk of cancer. Early detection is the best way to avoid cancer related death

About a couple of decades ago, communicable dieseases or infections were major health problems in India. However, with the affluence, especially in urban India, lifestyle related disorders like cancer, diabetes, heart diseases, hypertension etc. have become more common recently. Lifestyle changes are key contributors to shift in disease burden. Lifestyle related disorders like cancer have long-term latent periods that burdens people as well as healthcare services alike.1

“Early detection of cancer is important”

Tobacco and dietary changes are major lifestyle changes in our society. While tobacco accounts for 50% of all cancers; dietary changes account for 20–30% of cancers.1 In addition, lack of physical activity, pollution, pesticides, chemicals, medicines and high stress levels have contributed to lifestyle diseases. Dietary factors predominantly cause digestive tract cancers (mouth, throat, food pipe and lungs), stomach cancer, large intestine cancer and breast cancer in women.1

In addition to prevention (for example, avoiding tobacco prevents 30% of the future cancer2), of cancer, early detection is very important. If the cancer is diagnosed early, the treatment often is curative (can be cured). For example, breast cancer screening in the west has decreased death from breast cancer. It is important to understand and report possible signs of cancer like: lumps, sores that do not heal promptly, abnormal bleeding, and persistent indigestion or hoarseness; and screening tests help in early detection of cancer.2

“Possible signs of cancer: Lumps or sores that do not heal promptly, abnormal bleeding, and persistent indigestion”

Screening for cancer

India along with few other countries in developing world formulated National Cancer Control Programme in the early 1970s.2 Screening is the best strategy for early detection of cancer. Some of the commonly screened cancers in public health programs in India are:3

  • Breast cancer screening
  • Cervical cancer screening
  • Oral cancer screening

Advanced Screening Options available

Colonoscopy, sigmoidoscopy, and high-sensitivity fecal occult blood tests (FOBTs): Helps to diagnose colorectal cancer. The test is recommended in presence of any signs or symptoms of colorectal cancer and also in people aged 50–75 years.4

Low-dose helical computed tomography: Helps to diagnose lung cancer early. The test is recommended for heavy smokers aged 55 to 74 years.4

Mammography: This helps to detect breast cancer at an early stage. Screening is recommended for women aged 40 to 74, especially those aged 50 or older.4 Mammogram should be done yearly after the age of 40 and every other year after age of 55 years.5 Screening mammogram or digital mammogram is often used.

Pap test and human papillomavirus (HPV) testing: This helps to detect cervical cancer early. This test is recommended for females aged 21–65 years or while sexually active. 

Alpha-fetoprotein blood test: This test helps to detect liver cancer early. The test is done for those who are at high risk of the disease. 4

Genetic testing for breast cancer: Those who carry BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene carry high risk of breast cancer. These genes can be tested through genetic testing. 4

Breast MRI: Breast MRI test is done in women who have BRCA1 or 2 gene to detect breast cancer early. 4

CA-125 test: This is a blood test which is often done along with trans-vaginal (ultrasound probe is inserted in vagina) ultrasound. The test helps in early detection of ovarian cancer. 4

Clinical breast exams and regular breast self-exams: Self examination of breast for early detection of any breast abnormalities like lump, secretion through nipple, etc. Clinical examination of breast is done by the doctor.4

PSA test: This is a blood test often done along with rectal examination for the early detection of prostate cancer. 4

Skin examination: Detailed skin examination for any signs of skin cancer can help in early detection and thus early treatment of skin cancer. 4


In conclusion, lifestyle changes have lead to a phenomenal increase in incidences of cancer. Early detection and prevention of cancer are the best ways to avoid death from cancer. Screening can help in early and accurate diagnosis of cancer. Those who are at risk of any cancer or showing signs and symptoms suspicious of cancer should get screened for cancer.


Disclaimer: This article is for educational purpose only. Please consult a qualified doctor before taking any decisions regarding recommendations in the article or for more information.



1. Varghese C. Cancer prevention and control in India. Available at Accessed on 12th March 2015.

2. Nair MK, Varghese C, Swaminathan R. Cancer: Current scenario, intervention strategies and projections for 2015. NCMH Background Papers·Burden of Disease in India.

3. Dinshaw KA, Shastri SS, Patil SS. Cancer control programme in India: Challenges for the new millennium. Health Administrator. 2014;16:10–13.

4. Screening tests for cancer. National Cancer Institute. Available at Accessed on 12th March 2015.

5. American Cancer Society. Available at Accessed on 12th March 2015.


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