Cancer Screening

Juliet McMullin

in Public Health

ISBN: 9780199756797
Published online February 2011 | | DOI:
Cancer Screening

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According to the World Health Organization (WHO), cancer is among the leading causes of death worldwide, accounting for 7.4 million deaths in 2004. Early detection cancer screening is one of the more effective tools used to reduce cancer mortality, and it is estimated that a one-third cancer mortality reduction would occur with proper early detection. Cancer screening tests are designed to find cancers at an early stage, prior to the onset of symptoms, when the cancer is easier to treat. In some cases cancer screening for the cervix, colon, and rectum can identify precancerous cells, thus preventing the onset of cancer. This entry includes information for cancers where early detection tests currently exist: breast, colon, rectum, cervix, prostate, oral cavity, and skin cancers. While there is a large literature regarding medical technologies used in diagnostic testing, the primary purpose of this entry is to engage issues related to population-based cancer screening. Increased efforts to understand screening use have been addressed in behavioral research that focuses on the role of risk perception, informed decision making, and barriers that may hinder the uptake of cancer screening. These studies have also brought questions about the uneven distribution of cancer incidence and mortality to the fore. Discussions of cancer disparities are intertwined with social processes that reveal disparities in access, sociohistorical inequalities, and assumptions of medical practitioners and screening. Efforts at increasing the uptake of screening to address cancer mortality in populations as a whole and the associated disparities are evident in the cancer screening interventions literature. Despite the desire to make screening interventions available to all people, the cost-effectiveness literature examines the need to implement these technologies based on the distribution of specific cancers as well as considerations of how to implement costly programs in low-income countries. It is also important to note that these tests are not without risks, as the invasiveness of some of the screening tests can increase physical risks. Other diagnostic risks include overdiagnosis, being falsely diagnosed with cancer (false positives), and not being diagnosed when there is cancer (false negatives) Moreover, for some cancers early detection does not improve the chance of a cure or longer life. The potential benefits of cancer screening in the reduction of cancer mortalities produce an imperative to make the utmost of the available medical technology. And yet, the social, cultural, economic, and psychological complexities of cancer screening have given rise to an equally complex and prolific literature that show cancer and cancer screening to be more than the sole implementation of medical technologies.

Article.  5989 words. 

Subjects: Public Health and Epidemiology

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