Most Cancers Not Found Through Screenings

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Dec. 15, 2022 — Just 14.1% of cancer cases in the United States are diagnosed through recommended screening tests, a new report says.

Instead, most cancers are found when someone seeks medical attention for something else, according to the information posted by the nonprofit research organization NORC at the University of Chicago.

“I was shocked that only 14% of cancers were detected by screening. I think, for many people, we talk so much about cancer screening that we imagine that that’s how all cancers are diagnosed. We talk about mammograms and colonoscopies all the time,” said Caroline Pearson, an author of the report and senior vice president at the organization, on CNN.

Only breast, cervical, colorectal, and lung cancer have screenings recommended by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Of those, here are the percentages of cancers found by screening: 

  • 61% of breast cancers 
  • 52% of cervical cancers 
  • 45% of colorectal cancers
  • 3% of lung cancers

The report also shared information on prostate cancer, although screening for it isn’t widely recommended. The report suggests that screenings detect 77% of prostate cancers.

The information hasn’t been published in a peer-reviewed journal. It is based on 2017 data. Pearson said the numbers of cancer screenings have fallen since then because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I definitely think that the percent of cancers detected by screening would have been lower as a result of the pandemic. We know that people missed a tremendous number of recommended screenings, and we are seeing those cancers showing up at later stages in clinical settings,” Pearson said.

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