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Cancer Screening - What makes a good cancer screening test?

Updated: Dec 16, 2023

Screening tests are designed to pick up diseases in the preclinical phase. This is the phase of the disease before which any symptoms are present. By detecting disease in the preclinical phase intervention is more likely to give better outcomes.

Screening tests are often misunderstood and people frequently wonder why all cancers can not be screened for.

A good cancer screening test possesses several key qualities that make it effective and reliable.

Firstly, it should have a high sensitivity, meaning it accurately identifies individuals who have the cancer being screened for. This ensures that as few cases as possible are missed during the screening process.

Secondly, a good cancer screening test should have a high specificity, meaning it accurately identifies individuals who do not have the cancer being screened for. This minimizes the chances of false positives and unnecessary follow-up tests or interventions.

Furthermore, a good cancer screening test should be easily accessible, affordable, and non-invasive, allowing it to reach a large population and be implemented on a wide scale. It should also be reliable and consistent, providing consistent results when administered multiple times. A good example is the FIT test for bowel cancer screening which is non invasive and simply requires a small sample of your stool (poop).

Lastly, an effective cancer screening test should have evidence-based support, with well-established scientific validity and reliability. These qualities collectively ensure that a screening test can accurately identify individuals who require further diagnostic evaluation or intervention, leading to improved health outcomes and better resource allocation.

Unfortunately, not all cancers have well-defined early detection markers and many do not show detectable signs or symptoms until they have reached advanced stages, making early detection difficult. In such cases, screening tests are not available or may be less effective.

Should you have further questions please read our FAQ or book an intake appointment with to discuss your screening options.

Women in pink wearing the breast cancer awareness ribbon

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