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5 Ways to Spot Cancer Early and Improve Chances of Survival

Nearly 40 percent of people will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives. Early detection greatly improves survivability.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Cancer is a genetic disease in which cells grow uncontrollably and spread to other parts of the body. But early detection can greatly improve outcomes and make the disease easier to treat. Nearly 2 million people were diagnosed with cancer in the United States in 2021, according to the National Cancer Institute. But many cancers can be found early and controlled successfully. Breast cancer has a 99 percent survival rate when detected early; that rate drops to 28 percent if the disease is discovered in later stages, according to the American Cancer Society. Similarly, colorectal cancer has a survival rate of 91 percent when found in its early stages, compared to just 14 percent when detected in later stages. Here's how you can catch your cancer early.


Get Screened

risk of cancer

Talk to your doctor about regular cancer tests and screening you should consider depending on your age, sex, ethnicity, family history, lifestyle and health.

Regular cancer screenings increase the chance of detecting certain cancers early, according to Summa Health. Such tests can help find a cancer even before symptoms emerge.

You can also get genetic tests for cancer that you may have inherited from family members. Such tests detect abnormal genes and provide an estimate of your chances of developing cancer in your lifetime. Abnormal genes are the cause of 5 to 10 percent of all cancers, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Genetic tests are available for breast, ovarian, colon, prostate and pancreatic cancer. Consider a genetic test if you have three or more relatives diagnosed with a certain cancer.


Test for Specific Cancers


The American Cancer Society recommends screening tests for breast, cervical, colorectal, prostate and lung cancers based on your age, sex and ethnicity.

Breast Cancer: Women 40 to 44 should consider starting annual breast cancer screening with mammograms. Women 45 to 54 should get mammograms every year. Women 55 and older may switch to mammograms every two years. The ACS recommends that women continue screening as long as they are in good health and are expected to live 10 more years or longer.

Colorectal cancer: If you are at average risk for colorectal cancer, the American Cancer Society recommends starting regular screening at 45. Talk to your doctor about which of several types of tests you should consider. If you're in good health, you should continue regular screening through age 75.


Know Your Family History

breast cancer

Your family's medical history may help you understand your risk of developing certain types of cancer, Summa Health says.

If you have a close family member with breast cancer, you are at an increased risk for developing the disease. If more than one close relative has had the disease or if a family member got it at a younger age than usual, you should talk to your doctor. 

Ask about any heightened risk you may have and whether you should begin screenings or specific tests earlier than usual.


Reduce Your Risk

woman applying sunscreen lotion standing outdoors at the urban location during the sunny weather

While you await the results of your tests, you can take steps to reduce your cancer risk by altering your lifestyle.

Health care professionals advise maintaining a healthy weight, being physically active, eating a diet rich in fruit and vegetables, moderating your alcohol intake, avoiding direct sunlight or protecting your skin when you can't, and seeing a doctor regularly.


Quit Smoking

no smoking sign

Of all the lifestyle changes you can make, quitting smoking or avoiding it altogether may be the most crucial.

Smoking causes about 30 percent of all cancer deaths in the United States, according to the National Cancer Institute. Not smoking or quitting smoking lowers the risk of getting and dying from cancer.

Tobacco use is the leading cause of acute myelogenous leukemia, bladder cancer, cervical cancer, esophageal cancer, kidney cancer, lung cancer, oral cavity cancer, pancreatic cancer and stomach cancer, the institute says.

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