This year, more than 1.6 million Americans will be diagnosed with cancer, and nearly 600,000 will die from it, according to the National Cancer Institute. Studies have shown that cancer screenings could have decreased the risk of death in certain cases.

Avoiding our health

It’s not just with respect to breast cancer that we fail to screen for cancer. In 2015 the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported that many adults in the U.S. are not getting the recommended screening tests for colorectal, breast and cervical cancers, and that screening for these types of cancers either fell behind previous rates or showed no improvement. Half of teenagers in this country are not vaccinated for the human papillomavirus, a vaccine that can prevent cervical, anal, penile and head and neck cancers.

Not only were women behind in breast cancer screening, about 1 in 5 women reported not being up-to-date with cervical cancer screening, and about 2 in 5 adults reported not being up-to-date with colorectal cancer screening, falling below the CDC’s Healthy People 2020 targets, which are based on the most recent U.S. Preventive Services Task Force guidelines.

Have you been screened?

The importance of screening cannot be simpler. Early detection increases our ability to treat the cancers with the least toxic or adverse side effects and supports best outcomes for patients.

A variety of intuitive resources exist to help the public engage with their health. Stand Up and Pledge, a public service campaign, makes it easy for people to find out which cancer screenings are recommended for them and pledge to get screened. At getscreenednow.org, people enter their age and gender to receive personalized recommendations for the types of cancer screenings and vaccinations they should consider getting. Along with these recommendations, users also receive a list of simple actions they can take every day to lower their risk for certain types of cancer.

“Hopefully this research will lead to improved practices, so that all women into the future can determine if they are at risk.”

Too important to ignore

When it comes to the prevention of ovarian cancer, screening for risk factors is particularly essential. While ovarian cancer affects 1 in 75 women, it ranks fifth in cancer deaths among women, accounting for more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system. Less than half of the women diagnosed with ovarian cancer survive 5 years or longer. Therefore, genetic testing to identify women at high-risk for ovarian cancer, and for whom preventative measures may be implemented, has great potential to save lives.

Researchers are currently working to validate an approach so that patients determined to be at-risk can develop a prevention plan with their physician. In 2017, they expect to make this study accessible for any woman, anywhere in the country, regardless of location, education or economic status — factors that are too frequently barriers to genetic testing and cancer screening. Hopefully this research will lead to improved practices, so that all women into the future can determine if they are at risk.

Fortunately, the work to find new approaches for screening has stretched beyond frequently siloed research teams. Researchers are also developing liquid biopsies to identify cancer cells in blood that might enable early diagnosis, as well as cellular changes that may serve the early detection of cancer recurrence. The hope embedded in this collaboration is to improve cancer prevention, but also cancer interception.