Services for early detection of cancer have been growing in recent years. There's no arguing about the benefits of early diagnosis, but it seems the quality of screening tests are being exaggerated and medical centres are capitalising on the cancer scare. Dr Phùng Thị Huyền from the National K (Cancer) Hospital spoke to infonet.vn about the issue.
Many doctors say that patients are being duped by cancer screening services in Việt Nam that claim to provide complete diagnosis for early detection. What is your opinion on this issue?
The fact there are more cancer screening services available is not surprising. I receive a lot of phone calls every day for advice on the results of screenings that only consists of a blood test.
The quality of early screenings and diagnosis is being exaggerated. People also need to be alert and seek the opinion of specialist doctors.
What should people do to detect early stage cancer the right way?
Early detection of cancer greatly increases the chances of successful treatment.
Screening refers to the use of simple tests across a healthy population to identify those individuals who have a disease, but do not yet have symptoms. Examples include breast cancer screening using mammography or clinical breast exam, and cervical cancer is screened when there are no abnormal clinical signs at the cervix.
Screening can be done individually or in combination with periodic health checkups.
Some cancers have early symptoms. For example, possible noticeable symptoms of nasopharyngeal carcinoma include nose bleeds and nasal congestion. The most common symptom of breast cancer is a new lump.
All of these signs may warn of the risk of cancer and people should see doctors early when these abnormal signs are present. Do not treat yourself by using herbs with unknown origins.
Some people choose to have multiple screenings while others want PET/CT scans. What can you say about this?
There are advertisements for one-off blood tests that claim to detect different types of cancer. People are afraid of cancer so they agree to do a lot of expensive tests. In fact, no blood test can diagnose every form of cancer.
Other tests can suggest that cancer is present, but only a biopsy can provide a true diagnosis.
Too many tests can have a psychological impact. Many people self-diagnose on the internet and always live in fear of cancer.
Some screenings can produce false positive results so patients have to take additional tests to diagnose whether they have actually had cancer.
They can all lead to false negative results, the results of which are even worse.
We hope that in the future it may be possible to use blood tests to screen for cancer, but I need to reiterate that at present a blood test is not capable of giving a comprehensive diagnosis. — VNS