Cancer is an abnormal growth of cells which proliferate in an uncontrolled way and, in some cases, metastasize (spread). There are hundreds of different types of cancer and most are named after the organ or type of cell in which they originate, even if the cancer spreads to other organs.
Because there are so many types, there are many different cancer screening techniques and tests used to detect them. In this post we will explore these various methods of cancer diagnosis, why it is important to detect it early and where you can attend a cancer screening in London.
How is cancer diagnosed?
There are many ways to detect for and diagnose cancer. Typically, a person will see their GP once they are experiencing symptoms such as unexplained weight loss, blood in the stool, a persistent cough, an unexplained pain or ache, changes to a mole, an unusual lump or other worrisome symptoms. Relevant testing and imaging will be then performed such as blood tests, an MRI or CT scan, an endoscopy or a biopsy. If this leads to a cancer diagnosis, they will be referred to a consultant through the NHS and treatment options will be explored.
Some types of cancer are easy to spot; changes to moles or lesions on the skin can be caught early if you make an effort to check and attend a mole screening. However, you can’t see your own liver or colon, so if there is a tumour developing there, you may only be aware once it is big enough to cause symptoms.
And this is just the problem. Because further testing by the NHS is usually only carried out once the patient is symptomatic, the cancer often has chance to progress and spread. This is why sadly, almost half of cancers in England are diagnosed at a late stage, as 2014 Cancer Research statistics reveal. Late diagnosis often means that the patient has missed out on potentially curative treatments.
Why diagnosing cancer early is important
Early detection is very important. Hard to detect cancers such as pancreatic and ovarian cancers continue to have low survival rates, as they tend to be more advanced before symptoms are fully investigated.
Some people underestimate their risk of a certain cancer due to stigmas attached to it. This is the case with lung cancer, yet 18 percent of people who develop it are non-smokers according to Cancer Research UK. This late detection may contribute to the low survival rate – sadly just 10 percent survive for 10 years after diagnosis.
Often there is plenty of chance to detect cancer earlier, if only testing was performed. For example, colon cancers develop over a period of 10-15 years from tiny polyps which gradually increase in size. By the time they cause symptoms such as weight loss or bleeding, they have likely already spread to the point that treatment is much more difficult.
There are many campaigns, such as Be Clear on Cancer, and individuals, such as American TV host Alex Trebek,, aiming to encourage earlier detection. In October 2019, following his diagnosis with stage 4 pancreatic cancer, cancer, Trebek issued a PSA; “I wish I had known sooner that the persistent stomach pain I experienced prior to my diagnosis was a symptom of pancreatic cancer”. He is now aiming to heighten awareness and promote early detection.
Whilst the UK government has set the aim for 75 percent of cancers to be diagnosed in stages 1 and 2 by 2028, there is a way to go until then and this is still means that 25 percent of cases will be diagnosed late. So how can cancer be detected early?
How is cancer diagnosed in asymptomatic people?
The earlier cancer is detected the better. In an ideal scenario it would be diagnosed before symptoms manifest, but how can this be achieved?
Some cancers are easy to identify and diagnose, such as skin cancers. If an individual pays attention to changes to moles or the appearance of lumps and subsequently attends a full body mole screen or physical exam, these cancers can easily be diagnosed in their early stages. But what about cancers inside the body?
We may not have X-ray vision, but advanced medical imaging technologies effectively afford us the equivalent. There are many scanning techniques that can give doctors an in-depth insight into our health so that even very small cancers don’t go unnoticed. However, certain technologies are superior for scanning certain parts of the body and therefore, for the best results, different scanners must be used with a thoughtful and targeted approach.
Methods of testing for cancer
- MRI and CT both provide cross-sectional images of the body part being scanned whilst the patient lies in the scanner. However CT uses X-Rays whilst MRI uses powerful magnetic fields and radiowaves. CT is therefore best for imaging the lungs, colon, heart arteries and bone whilst MRI is ideal for imaging the brain, prostate and metastases to the bone.
- Ultrasound can image soft tissues such as the testes, ovaries or thyroid gland. If it reveals masses in these tissues they may be further investigated via an MRI or a biopsy to determine whether they are cancerous.
- X-Ray – a quick and easy technique that may detect damage to bones causes by cancer and is particularly good and imaging dense masses in soft tissues such as the lungs. But it is low resolution meaning cancers have to be a certain size before they will be visible on an X-ray.
- Mammogram involves pressing the breasts between two plates whilst X-ray images are taken to image the breasts for signs of cancer.
- Mole screening – a dermatologist or experienced nurse will examine a mole or lesion on the skin and may perform a biopsy to test it for cancer.
- Endoscopy – a procedure where organs inside the body are looked at using an endoscope, which is a long thin flexible tube with a light and camera on one end.
- Blood tests – may be used to detect tumour markers, which are often proteins produced by cancer cells, or circulating tumour DNA (cDNA). Other tests can reveal abnormalities that may indicate the body is fighting cancer, such as an unusually low or high number of certain white blood cells.
Unfortunately, the NHS usually only refer patients for further testing and imaging once they are symptomatic, by which point cancer will have had chance to progress. Therefore, if you want to take control of your health, especially if you have an increased risk of cancer, the solution is obvious – a preventative health assessment.
Cancer screening in London via a preventative Health Assessment
Preventative Health Assessments involve a variety of testing and imaging techniques and are a fantastic investment for individuals who want to prevent the ‘Big Four’; cancers, heart disease, lung disease and stroke. Men over 35 and women over 40 have the most to benefit from preventative Health Assessments.
Based on Harley Street, London, Echelon Health offer the most comprehensive Health Assessments in the world. Through our independently verified analysis of data from the Office of National Statistics, we have calculated that a Platinum Health Assessment at Echelon Health detects for 92 percent of the avoidable causes of death in 55-70 year old men (96 percent in women). Here are some of the reasons you should consider a cancer screening in London with an Echelon Health Assessment.
- Tailored to your needs – before any tests are performed, your medical history will be discussed in depth with a renowned consultant physician to ensure the assessment is tailored to your needs.
- State-of-the-art equipment – Echelon operate a 3 Tesla MRI machine, which is renowned for its high resolution. The NHS primarily operates 1.5 Tesla MRI machines. There are only four EOS CT scanners in operation in the UK, one of these is housed in our Harley Street centre and is used for our Health Assessments.
- Full body mole screen – Echelon are partnered with The Mole Clinic, which leads the UK in skin cancer screening and mole removal. This is included in our Premium Health Assessments.
- Blood tests for over 40 parameters – including:
- CA 19.9 and CA 125 which are markers for breast cancer and ovarian cancer respectively,
- PSA (prostate-specific antigen) to detect prostate cancer.
- CEA – a general tumour marker,
- Full blood count – which measures the relative amounts of white blood cells that may indicate the presence of cancer.
- Up to seven specialist consults may review your results – each reporting on their particular area of expertise.
- Referral to top consultants and specialists: if anything worrisome is detected Echelon Health will make an immediate referral to a highly experienced specialist to discuss treatment.
- Early detection – anything flagged up will likely be in its early stages as it has not yet caused obvious symptoms. Therefore, you will likely have treatment options and a promising outcome if you are diagnosed with cancer.
- Receive lifestyle and health management advice – our experts will give you a detailed understanding of your health and actionable steps you can take to improve it.
To book an Echelon Health Assessment, call us on +44 (0)20 7580 7688 or fill out the form below and we will be happy to answer any questions you may have.Make an Enquiry
Cancer Research UK – Cancer Incidence Statistics
Cancer Research UK – Lung Cancer Statistics
WebMD – Alex Trebek on Cancer: ‘I wish I had known sooner’
Cancer Research UK – Cancer in the UK 2019
Office for National Statistics – Avoidable Mortality in the UK: 2018