Early detection is key in the fight against cancer. Since most therapy is focused around treating cells at the site of origin, it is important to detect cancerous cells as early as possible, before it has had the chance to metastasize.

Therefore, having testing procedures to detect cancer at the initial onset is vital to successfully eliminate the disease.

The most effective screening test would possess attributes such as being non-invasive, safe, reliable and inexpensive.

The Pap smear developed in the 1930s was one of the first screening tests available for cervical cancer and has since become routine for women during yearly pelvic exams.

This procedure is inexpensive and relatively non-invasive although it may be uncomfortable for some. However, the reliability is scrutinized due to the incident of false positives where cells are wrongly diagnosed as cancerous.

This screening procedure requires subjective analysis by a cytologist reading hundreds of samples a day, at this point, human error becomes inevitable. Despite the shortcomings, most would agree that they would elect to take the test.

Other diagnostic procedures include imaging techniques, endoscopy, and biopsy. Imaging techniques, such as x-ray and MRI, are not invasive like endoscopy and biopsies, but most of these techniques are only effective at later stages in cancer development for obvious reasons.

Many of these procedures are used as a final definitive screen in diagnosis because they do carry some patient risk.

The field of biomarker screening in biological fluids such as blood and urine has really become the focal point of cancer research for early detection.

The routinely used prostate-specific antigen (PSA) and Cancer Antigen CA-125 screens measure individual biomarkers. Although these are good screening tools, the new wave of biomarker screening is focused on forms of testing that can cover a broad spectrum of cancer types in one analysis.

Tumors shed exosomes into the blood supply and these exosomes carry genetic material and proteins that can reveal the type and progression of cancer.

Therefore, the origin of the cancer can be detected. Both of these revolutionary tests can detect cancer very early, even before clinical symptoms are presented.

The future of screening and diagnostic testing looks promising and provides another valuable tool to fight cancer.

These early detection capabilities are especially promising for those types that can only be detected at later stages when clinical symptoms arise and survival rates are low.

These procedures are high-throughput and all-encompassing so new cancer types will be added as additional markers are found. As research continues in the area of high-throughput biomarker screening, early detection will certainly save millions of lives.

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