e’ve all heard the story of
a family friend who was
never sick a day in his life.
Until a doctor told him he
was dying of colorectal cancer at the age
of 60. At his funeral six months later,
everyone wondered how this could have
One answer is screening.
It may seem unnecessary to be
tested when you’re not sick or have no
symptoms, but screening is one of the
best ways to detect certain diseases.
For some such diseases, early treatment
can save your life. And some screening
tests for cancer can detect precancerous
conditions that can be treated before
Dr. Huiming Yang, director of Screening
Programs with the Health Promotion,
Disease and Injury Prevention at Alberta
Health Services, says the AHS’s screening
programs are based on scientific evidence
and best practices.
“When screening is used appropriately
and wisely, it can be very effective in
reducing the effects of a disease or
possible death from the disease,” says
Yang, citing in particular the benefits
of screening for breast, cervical and
Regular screening (mammograms)
every two years for breast cancer,
which 11 per cent of Canadian women
will develop in their lifetime, can
potentially reduce the death rate from
the disease by 30 per cent.
Likewise, screening for colorectal
cancer—which six per cent of Canadian
women and seven per cent of the
Canadian men will develop in their
lifetime and is the second-leading cause
of cancer death in Alberta—can reduce
the disease’s mortality rate. And when
colorectal cancer is caught early, the
survival rate is as high as 90 per cent.
The Pap test for cervical cancer, for
years the main reason women saw
their family physician annually, is now
recommended every three years. Cervical
cancer is a highly preventable disease
and thanks to routine screening, very few
Canadian women now die from it. (That
said, girls and women vaccinated against
HPV still need to be tested regularly.)
Family doctors also routinely
screen for chronic conditions, such as
hypertension, type 2 diabetes and high
cholesterol, depending on patients’ age,
gender, genetics, lifestyle and medical
history. (See chart on recommended
frequency of screening tests.)
Testing before symptoms
Preventive screening looks for a pre-disease condition in people presumed
healthy, or without symptoms. When
a screening test does show something
unusual, tests are required.
When patients have symptoms, such as
a persistent smoker’s cough, they’re sent
for a diagnostic test, not a screening test.
Screening does not prevent an illness—
it simply detects some illnesses earlier.
Screening tests are given to patients
Screening for illness
who do not have any symptoms. If you
It may seem unnecessary to be tested when you’re not sick
or have no symptoms, but as Edmonton writer Dawna Freeman
reports, screening is one of the best ways to detect certain
diseases and could even save your life.
before symptoms strike
did you Know?
Screen test mobile trailers visit more than 100
rural and remote communities throughout
Alberta every year to provide a high-quality
screening mammography service. Call
1-800-667-0604 for dates and appointments.
For more information on healthy screening,
Translated information sheets on breast,
colorectal and cervical cancer screenings
are now available in Arabic, Chinese, Punjabi,
Spanish and Vietnamese. Call 1-866-727-3926.