With all the emphasis on early cancer screening, it's no surprise that at-home screening tests are becoming widely available. However, just because you can screen yourself for some cancers, does that mean you should?

Ways to Self-Screen

Currently you can purchase screening tests for breast, prostate, colorectal, and urinary cancer at your local pharmacy or on the Internet. Some tests require you collect a sample at home and send it to a lab, which analyzes it and sends the results back to you or your physician. Others allow you to perform the test at home and immediately compare the results to guidelines included in the kit.

Fecal Occult Blood Tests (FOBT) detects the presence of hidden blood (occult) in your stool, which is often the first warning of colorectal cancer. It's simple to perform: just apply the chemical developer solution to a small sample of stool and compare your results to the key included in the kit. There are also simple online screening questionnaires that help you determine your risk for colorectal cancer.

You can purchase home screening kits for prostate and bladder cancers, which test samples of blood or urine to detect elevated levels of Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) and hematuria (blood in urine). We may soon see similar tests for other cancers and even at-home and genetic testing.

At one time, all women were encouraged to perform at-home self breast exams. Through monthly self breast exams, you learn how your breasts normally look and feel, so you can easily spot changes that may indicate cancer. Today, physicians generally recommend self breast exams just for high-risk women. However, you can purchase commercially available pads that increase sensitivity and reduce friction when you perform self breast exams.

Should You Self-Screen for Cancer?

At-home screening can become a part of your overall self care and may help you catch cancer early. Self-screening can also empower you during consultations with your physician.

There are good reasons not to self screen, however. When you perform a screening test at home, you do not have immediate professional support if the test returns out bad news. Most of us are not qualified to accurately interpret--and act upon--results and may delay seeking critical medical attention. Finally, screening tests are not always reliable, prompting additional, unnecessary testing, creating a false sense of security, or producing unnecessary anxiety.

If you choose to pursue cancer screening at home, be sure you understand the risks and advantages. Don't use self-screening to take the place of professionally administered and interpreted medical screenings.


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