Primary Care Methods for Detecting Cancer at an Early Stage

Primary care plays a key role in the diagnosis of cancer. The vast majority of patients with cancer will show symptoms before the diagnosis. It is likely for some patients to undergo more than one test before the cancer is detected.
General practitioners, nurses, and primary care doctors each have very important roles. They can assist in efforts to diagnose cancer early in asymptomatic patients. They can do this by motivating and promoting participation in cancer screening programs.
It is well established that cancer survival is greatly dependent on the stage at diagnosis. Cancers diagnosed at early stages, such as stage I or II, have better treatment options. Treatments at these stages are more likely to be successful. They also have better overall outcomes when compared to late-stage cancers like stages III or IV.
Cancer screening programs aim to diagnose cancer in asymptomatic patients. This helps increase early detection and treatment. The downside is that their cost efficacy is dependent on reaching a minimum level of participation.

How Many Stages Does Cancer Have and What Do They Mean? 

Cancer generally has four stages. They are stages I through IV. Some cancers have stage 0 (zero). Here’s what these stages mean:
  • Stage 0: This stage means the cancer is still located in the place it began and hasn’t spread to nearby tissues. Stage 0 cancers are often curable.
  • Stage I: This stage usually represents a tiny tumor or cancer that has not grown intensely into surrounding tissues. It’s sometimes called early-stage cancer.
  • Stages II and III: These stages represent bigger cancers or tumors that have grown more deeply into nearby tissues.
  • Stage IV: Cancer in this stage has spread to different organs and parts of the body. It is usually referred to as advanced or metastatic cancer.

    Primary Care Methods for Detecting Cancer at an Early Stage
    Primary Care Methods for Detecting Cancer at an Early Stage. Photo Credit – Pexels

4 Common Methods for Detecting Cancer at an Early Stage

The diagnosis of cancer normally begins with the detection of symptoms that may be related to the disease. Cancer should be diagnosed by a qualified primary care doctor. Symptoms linked with cancer vary, but some common symptoms include;
  • Unusual bleeding 
  • A persistent lump or a sore that refuses to heal 
  • Persistent cough
  • Changes in bowel or bladder habits 
  • Indigestion or trouble swallowing
Some of the primary care methods used to detect cancer at an early stage include; 

1. Exfoliative Cytology 

Exfoliative cytology is a quick and simple procedure. It is an important option for biopsy in particular situations. In this procedure, cells shed from body surfaces, such as the inside of the mouth, are gathered and examined. 
This technique is helpful when examining surface cells. It also often requires additional cytological analysis to verify the results.

2. Abrasion 

A procedure known as abrasion is especially useful for collecting cells from the surface and the subsurface layers of lesions. Abrasion is commonly conducted with a brush or a spatula. After the cells are collected by abrasion they are examined. 
Cells from epithelial-lined body cavities like the vagina, the cervix, and the stomach are analyzed using the Papanicolaou technique. The Papanicolaou test or smear (generally called the Pap smear) is the inspection of cervical cells that have been fixed and dyed on a slide. This is done according to the procedure developed by the Greek physician George Nicolas Papanicolaou. 
The sampling of cervicovaginal cells has extensively lessened the cases of cervical cancer. The Papanicolaou technique can also be applied to cells obtained from other surfaces.

3. Needle Biopsy 

A needle biopsy is the easiest and least-disruptive method of obtaining tissue for pathological examination. This procedure can be carried out with a large cutting needle to acquire a “core” of tissue. Sometimes, a primary care doctor may also use a small-gauge needle for this procedure. 
The latter technique is called fine-needle aspiration biopsy. This is accomplished by putting the needle into the area of interest. Suction is then applied to draw the tissue into the needle. A needle biopsy is frequently used to collect samples from breast masses. 

4. Fine-Needle Aspiration Biopsy 

Fine-needle aspiration biopsy is another type of biopsy. This method yields cells rather than a tissue sample. This means the pathologist can evaluate only cellular features. They are unable to assess the architectural traits of the tissue questioned of bearing a tumor. 
However, fine-needle aspiration has numerous positive qualities. It is fairly painless and free of intricacies. In many cases, it is a worthwhile adjunct to the diagnosis. A tissue sample may take days to process and examine. But, a sample acquired by fine-needle aspiration can be analyzed and interpreted within a day or in a matter of hours.


There are diverse routes a patient may follow to reach a diagnosis of cancer. Patients can be diagnosed after reporting to their general practitioner with symptoms related to cancer. Some are diagnosed through a proper cancer screening program.
These routes, and the duration of time taken to reach the diagnosis, can be influenced by the number of patients, tumor, and health service factors. Early detection of cancer makes a very big difference. You can get treated and even get cured if cancer is detected early. Do not delay getting tested. 


1. Can Cancer Be Cured?

Yes. When cancer treatment seems to be working, your doctor might tell you that the cancer is in remission. A partial remission occurs when cancer shrinks but doesn’t vanish. A complete remission implies there are no longer any signs of cancer.

2. Where Will I Go to Have the Test or Procedures? 

Cancer tests or screening must be carried out by qualified professionals. You should visit a primary care facility to get properly tested for cancer. 

3. Is Cancer Contagious? 

Cancer isn’t contagious like the flu or a cold. You can’t contract cancer from someone who has cancer. However,  cancer is, in fact, a genetic disease. Cancer is caused by mutations or alterations to genes that cause the cells to function irregularly. These mutations can be inherited, but it’s much more likely that these gene shifts occur during a person’s lifetime due to other factors besides genetics. Read More – The Early Signs and Symptoms of Breast Cancer


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