Early cancer screening

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Screening enables cancer to be diagnosed early, even before the first symptoms appear. It consists in detecting lesions before they become cancerous (precancerous lesions) or cancer, the smallest and the earliest possible. Treatment is therefore less invasive and quality of life is best preserved.

Why be screened?

From a public health viewpoint, screening targets the entire population. Accepting to be screened means that you take part in efficient public health action.

From a personal viewpoint, it means considerably improving your chances should cancer be discovered.

What cancers does screening cover?

Not all cancers are screened for many criteria are required to be able to propose screening. They are as follows:

  • the disease itself: it needs to be frequently observed and to be a major cause of mortality, but also capable of being detected at a stage where it can be treated;
  • screening test performance and its minimally invasive nature;
  • the existence of efficient treatment for the specific type of cancer.

Two aspects of screening:

  • individual screening is conducted following a personal request or upon recommendation by a medical practitioner, in particular in the case of suspected or confirmed family predisposition (increased risk of cancer in the family)
  • organised screening concerns a particular population group and certain types of cancer

How is organised screening organised?

In France, there are three national organised cancer screening programmes. They are as follows:

  • Breast cancer
  • Colorectal cancer
  • Cervical cancer

For breast cancer: Every two years, women aged 50 to 74 years receive a postal invitation to have a mammography (radiology exam) conducted and a clinical consultation with a certified radiologist.

For colorectal cancer: Every two years, all individuals aged 50 to 74 years are invited to conduct an immunological test on a stool sample, which enables the detection of traces of blood that are invisible to the naked eye.

For cervical cancer: Every three years, women aged 25 to 65 years have a screening smear test done, either by their GP or their gynaecologist. This test consists in collecting cells on the cervix in order to detect the presence of a virus or abnormal cells.

In the absence of organised screening, what should I check?

Although they are not part of organised screening campaigns, certain types of cancer, such as skin cancer, can still be detected early.

Be careful ! Some warning signs should prompt you to consult your doctor.Early detection of cancer rests on your awareness of « these warning signs » , It could be, for example:

  • intense and sustained fatigue
  • weight loss
  • a lump that does not go away, whatever the location
  • change in voice, persistance of a rough voice or coughing
  • bleeding outside of menstrual periods or after menopause
  • a small and persistant wound
  • a modified mole or beauty spot

These warning signs do not necessarily mean you have cancer; however, their onset and their persistance should urge you to consult your doctor.

In France, 4 cancers out of 10 could be avoided if we adapted our lifestyle; advice on how to limit cancer risk includes:

  • don’t smoke
  • don’t excessively consume alcohol (less than 10 glasses/week and 2 glasses/day with at least 2 days/week alcohol free).
  • fight weight gain
  • eat a balanced diet
  • take regular physical exercise
  • limit your exposure to the sun: this is very important in young children, but also adults (no exposure to the sun from noon to 4pm, sunscreen on the entire body every 2 hours)
  • practice safe sex in order to fight against sexually transmitted diseases
  • have teenagers vaccinated against the HPV virus


The INCa (French National Cancer Institute) proposes a quiz which can help you to adopt preventive atttitudes:

3-minute ‘Cancer prevention’ quiz
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