Early diagnosis is important for the successful treatment of many diseases. When it comes to cancer, early detection seems especially urgent. In some cases, however, screening is not effective, either because there are no good tests (brain cancer is an example) or because early treatment usually doesn't affect the outcome (pancreatic cancer). In other cases, some screening methods have failed, but others are on the horizon (lung cancer). And in some diseases, screening has proved its value and should be part of everyone's preventive maintenance (colon cancer).
The value of a screening test depends, not on its ability to detect disease, but on its ability to improve a person's outcome, considering both the duration and quality of life. To decide if a test is right for you, ask your doctor to help you balance the risks and side effects of testing and treatment against the benefits you can expect from early treatment. For women, routine Pap smears have dramatically reduced deaths from cancer of the cervix, and research has validated the long-held belief that mammograms reduce the risk of dying from breast cancer. For men, self-screening for testicular cancer is easy and logical, if unproven, while testing for prostate cancer is much more important but much less clear-cut. Let's look at the screening issues that apply strictly to men.
To continue reading this article, you must log in.
Subscribe to Harvard Health Online for immediate access to health news and information from Harvard Medical School.
- Research health conditions
- Check your symptoms
- Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
- Find the best treatments and procedures for you
- Explore options for better nutrition and exercise
I'd like to receive access to Harvard Health Online for only $4.99 a month.Sign Me Up
Already a member? Login ».
As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review or update on all articles.
No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.