New Research Shows Only 1 in 7 Cancers Found Through Screening

Screening for various types of cancers is key in detecting disease before symptoms develop and before it has a chance to spread. Unfortunately, most cancers do not have a screening option, and even those that do aren’t always utilized. A new study finds that these issues mean the vast majority of cases are not detected through screening.

Researchers from NORC at the University of Chicago recently crunched the numbers to see how many overall cancer diagnoses come from a screening. According to their findings, it’s only 14%. The rest are discovered via other means, like the onset of symptoms or when the patient was getting other medical care. The team says this shows a need for more testing options and a better utilization of recommended preventive care.


Caroline Pearson, senior vice president at NORC, says, “Cancer treatments have vastly improved over the last few decades, but the health system’s ability to screen for cancer, which is essential for early diagnosis and effective treatment, still has a long way to go. There need to be more screening options to catch more cancers and improve outcomes for patients.”

NORC estimates that 57% of all diagnosed cancers do not have a recommended screening. There are five that have such a test: breast, cervical, colorectal, lung, and prostate. However, they say the prostate cancer screening is not as broadly recommended because of overdiagnosis. The CDC notes that older men in particular are apt to get false positives. When it comes to the other four cancers, they make up about 29% of total cases, but roughly half are not detected via screening because patients did not undergo one.


There are certain types of cancers that have better screening success, as well, with the report noting that about 61% of breast cancers are discovered during screening, but only around half of women actually get mammograms. Lung cancer, meanwhile, only has about 3% of cases detected through screening.

On the other hand, NORC estimates that 70% of cancer-related deaths come from the 57% of diagnoses without a screening option.


The team says that to improve cancer outcomes, more complete data is needed on screening and diagnosis, particularly broken down by race and ethnic group. The report notes that people of color are typically underrepresented in U.S. cancer data.

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