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Cancer Screening Overview (PDQ®): Screening - Patient Information [NCI] - What Are the Goals of Screening Tests?

Screening tests have many goals.

A screening test that works the way it should and is helpful does the following:

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  • Finds cancer before symptoms appear.
  • Screens for a cancer that is easier to treat and cure when found early.
  • Has few false-negative test results and false-positive test results.
  • Decreases the chance of dying from cancer.

Screening tests are not meant to diagnose cancer.

Screening tests usually do not diagnose cancer. If a screening test result is abnormal, more tests may be done to check for cancer. For example, a screening mammogram may find a lump in the breast. A lump may be cancer or something else. More tests need to be done to find out if the lump is cancer. These are called diagnostic tests. Diagnostic tests may include a biopsy, in which cells or tissues are removed so a pathologist can check them under a microscope for signs of cancer.

    This information is produced and provided by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The information in this topic may have changed since it was written. For the most current information, contact the National Cancer Institute via the Internet web site at http:// cancer .gov or call 1-800-4-CANCER.

    WebMD Public Information from the National Cancer Institute

    Last Updated: May 28, 2015
    This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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