As a urologist, my main goal at work is to ensure that my patients don’t need to be told that they have cancer.

No one ever wants to hear their name and the word cancer in the same sentence but in some cases, that is unavoidable.

Cancer screening is so important because with regular screening, there is a high survival rate for most cancers, especially as new screening methods and technology are coming to the fore.

Even though we have come a long way when it comes to cancer screening and treatment, there is still a long way to go in ensuring the public are attending screenings from the get go, often cancer screening happens too late.


Cancer statistics you need to be aware of

  • It is estimated that 1 in 3 people will be diagnosed with cancer at some point during their life.

  • It is estimated that 1 in 5 people will die from cancer.

  • There are currently 17 million cancer survivors in the U.S. It is expected that there will be 22.1 million cancer survivors in 2030 due to the ageing population and better treatment options for those who receive a cancer diagnosis.

  • The most common cancers for men are lung cancer, prostate cancer, colorectal cancer and melanoma (cancer of the skin).

  • The most common cancers in women are breast cancer, colorectal cancer and lung cancer.

  • Family history is the leading risk factor that may determine your likelihood of developing cancer.

For a large number of patients, there is some confusion around the onset of cancer. Many patients will not seek out screening or treatment until they are experiencing symptoms. In the case of some cancers, there are no symptoms until the cancer has metastasized (spread to other parts of the body).

Early diagnosis and better treatment options mean that there are now more cancer survivors in the United States than ever before.

As a general rule, most cancers can be cured or successfully treated if they are detected early, and this raises the importance of regular and appropriate screening.

It’s important to understand and realize that even if you feel perfectly healthy, you may still carry a significant risk of developing cancer.

My role is to lower my patient's risk so I want this article to provide readers with the know-how they need to better understand their cancer risk as well as recommended screening ages.

Can you live with cancer for years without knowing?

It is possible to live with cancer for years without knowing. Some cancers may take a long time to develop before they produce any signs or symptoms.

For this reason, it may be difficult to know whether you have cancer, this is why regular screening is so important.

Generally speaking, patients are more likely to experience cancer symptoms when the cancer has spread or metastasized due to the fact that cancer growths may push on nearby organs, blood vessels, nerves and tissues.

There are no set times when it comes to how long it may take for cancer to develop, however some cancers may take years and years to become malignant and begin to spread.

  • HPV infection may take 10-30 years to cause cervical cancer and therefore symptoms.

  • Prostate cancer may take 15 years to spread to other parts of the body and therefore cause symptoms.

  • Colorectal cancer may take 10 years to grow from a precancerous polyp into cancer and therefore cause symptoms.

It is scary to think that prostate cancer usually has no symptoms until the cancer is well progressed. How, then, is a man supposed to know he has the disease? The way to detect prostate cancer very early and before any symptoms develop is to have regular rectal exams with a primary care physician or urologist, and also consider doing blood test for prostate-specific antigen (PSA).

The PSA Test is a bit controversial, however, when tested regularly and monitored over a period of time, it can suggest prostate cancer much earlier than might be detected on a rectal exam or by symptoms.

Current guidelines for prostate cancer testing are for PSA blood test and rectal exam starting at age 50 and performed every other year up until mid 70s. However if a person has a strong family history for prostate cancer then they should begin screening at the age of 40.

Screening for colon cancer is also well-defined for both men and women. This includes colonoscopy starting at age 50 or considering one of the home FIT tests looking for either genetic markers or traces of blood in the stool which may be invisible to the naked eye. If there is a strong family history of colon cancer, screening should start much earlier. Ultimately, this can be decided in collaboration with a primary care physician.

For women testing for the human papillomavirus (HPV) is recommended, as certain subtypes of HPV have been linked to developing cervical cancer. You can do this at home by taking a HPV swab, or it is carried out during a cervical PAP smear/cervical smear test.

A HPV Test or pap smear is a good screening tool for cervical cancer and this should be completed at regular intervals, based on a woman's age. Women should also consider routine breast exam with a physician in conjunction with regular mammogram x-ray imaging.

How often should you get checked for cancer?

There are no one size fits all recommended cancer screening ages, and generally speaking, cancer screening ages, as recommended public health bodies can widely differ.

For instance, in the case of colorectal cancer screening, Japan recommends screening at the age of 40 wheras the likes of Finland and Iceland recommend over the age of 60.

The below recommended screening ages are U.S. based recommendations and come from the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention.


What steps can you take to lower your risk of cancer risk?

Family history and genetics have a large impact on your cancer risk. However, there are certainly steps that all of us can take to lower our risk such as eating healthily, exercising regularly, managing stress and avoiding negative lifestyle habits such as smoking tobacco products, excessive alcohol consumption and the use of recreational drugs.

Regular screening and educating yourself on the best way that you can understand your cancer risk is the most effective way to safeguard your health.

Browse Cancer Screening Tests With LetsGetChecked.

Written by Dr. Robert Mordkin | Edited by Hannah Kingston