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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.

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WebMD Public Information from the National Cancer Institute

Last Updated: February 25, 2014
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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