Early detection means finding a cancer at an early stage. It is often easier to treat cancer when it is found early. Knowing and recognizing cancer symptoms and having regular checkups can help detect cancer early.
Knowing your own body well can help you find possible health problems, including cancer, early. Be aware of what is normal for your body. Don’t ignore anything that changes or seems unusual. Tell your doctor about any changes you find. The sooner you talk to your doctor, the sooner a problem can be checked.
What Is Cancer Screening?
Get checked (screened) when you are healthy. Screening tests help find some types of cancer early. Screening tests do not diagnose cancer, but look for abnormal changes in the body. Finding these changes can help prevent cancer or find it early when it is easier to treat. Screening for breast, cervical and colorectal cancers saves lives.
Talk to your doctor to learn more about your risk of cancer and what screening tests are available to help find cancer early.
Which Cancers Can Be Found through Screening?
Ontario has screening programs for breast, cervical, and colorectal cancers.
Find out when you should start screening for breast, cervical, and colorectal cancers by answering the questions in the
Time to Screen Tool [opens in new window] on the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care’s website.
Other cancers rely on cancer investigations that test for cancer based on signs and symptoms. These include:
No matter your age, you should know your breasts and what is normal for them. Many people are alive and well today because they were aware of their bodies and were screened regularly. Self-awareness and early screening help doctors detect and treat breast cancer early.
It’s important to know that screening tests for cancer are not perfect. For example, a screening test may seem to show cancer when none is there, or may not show cancer when it is present. But overall, screening mammography is the most reliable method of checking for breast cancer.
Your health care provider may examine your breasts (a clinical breast examination) during regular physical exams or if you notice a change.
If you are:
40 to 49, talk to your health care provider about your risk of breast cancer and the benefits and risks of mammography
Over 50, have a mammogram (breast x-ray) every 2 years
At high risk of developing breast cancer, start breast screening at age 30.
For most people, high risk is linked to a family history of breast or other cancers. If you have a history of cancer in your family, you may wish to seek genetic counselling.
Learn more about genetic counselling at the Familial Cancer Clinic »
Princess Margaret is an accredited centre of the Ontario Breast Screening Program.
Find a breast screening centre near you [opens in new window] »
For more information on breast cancer, visit:
When a person with a cervix becomes sexually active, they should start screening for cervical cancer. Screening for cervical cancer involves a Pap test. You’ll need a Pap test every 1 to 3 years. How often you get a Pap test depends on your previous test results. Even if you are no longer having sex, you should continue to have regular Pap tests. If you’ve had a hysterectomy (your uterus was removed), talk to your doctor about whether you still need Pap tests.
The most common cause of cervical cancer is infection of the cervix with human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is most often spread through sexual contact (including sexual intercourse, oral sex and genital skin-to-skin contact). The virus can stay dormant and then appear years after you were exposed to it. Using a condom during sex decreases your chance of getting HPV, but condoms don’t provide complete protection because they don’t cover the entire genital area.
Some, but not all, HPV infections can be prevented with HPV vaccines. Even if you have been vaccinated you still need regular Pap tests.
For more information on cervical cancer, visit:
People ages 50 to 74 should be screened for colorectal cancer through Ontario’s provincial screening program,
ColonCancerCheck [opens in new window].
If you are at average risk, you should do the fecal immunochemical test (FIT) once every 2 years. The FIT is a safe and painless stool test that you can do at home.
Anyone can get colorectal cancer, but some people are more likely to get it than others. This means they have a higher risk. Your risk of getting colorectal cancer is higher if:
- Someone in your family (parent, brother, sister or child) has been diagnosed with colorectal cancer
- You have had colorectal polyps before
- You have inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease)
If you have a family history of colorectal cancer, you may need to get checked before age 50 with a test called a colonoscopy (an examination of the inside of your colon). Talk to your doctor or nurse practitioner about your family history and when you should get checked.
For more information on colorectal cancer and colorectal cancer screening, visit:
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in Ontario. The biggest risk factors for developing lung cancer are smoking and age. You can help prevent lung cancer by being a non-smoker and avoiding second-hand smoke. Current and former smokers at high risk may qualify for lung screening.
Regular screening can lower your risk of dying from lung cancer by 20% if you are at high risk for lung cancer.
The University Health Network (UHN) has a Lung Cancer Screening Program. To take part in UHN's Lung Cancer Screening Program, you must:
- Be 55 to 74 years old
- Have smoked cigarettes for at least 20 years (it does not have to be 20 years in a row)
If you would like to be part of UHN's Lung Cancer Screening Program, you can enrol yourself in the program or ask your doctor to refer you to the program. For more information about UHN's Lung Cancer Screening Program,
call 416 340 4154 or visit
UHN Lung Cancer Screening Program.
For more information on lung cancer, visit:
Doctors can use the PSA (prostate specific antigen) test and a digital rectal exam (DRE) to help detect the possibility of prostate cancer. But it is not clear if the benefits of testing for prostate cancer outweigh possible harms. Talk to your health care provider about your own risk for prostate cancer and the potential benefits and harms of early testing for you.
Speak with your doctor about prostate cancer screening if you:
- Will soon be 50 years old
- Are over 50 and have not yet discussed prostate cancer screening
- Have a family history of prostate cancer, which puts you at higher risk
- Are of African ancestry, which puts you at higher risk
- Have symptoms of prostate cancer, such as changes in urination patterns (needing to pee more often, not being able to stop the urine flow, difficulty peeing)
If your doctor hasn’t discussed your prostate health and your risk for prostate cancer with you, start the conversation by visit the following websites for more information:
There are two types of skin cancer – non-melanoma and melanoma. Many types of skin cancer can be cured if they’re found and treated early.
Learn what to look for and check for changes to your skin often. Get someone to help you check hard-to-see places. These include the back of your neck and ears, your back and the backs of your legs.
- Any change in the colour, shape, size or surface of a mole or birthmark
- Any new growth on your skin – pale, pearly bumps that grow larger and develop a crust, or sharply defined red, scaly, patches
- Sores that don’t heal
- Any area of skin that itches, swells, bleeds, oozes or becomes red and bumpy
Talk to your doctor if you notice any changes or are not sure about what to look for.
For more information on skin cancer, visit:
Testicular cancer is the most common cancer in people with testicles between 25 and 29 years of age.
There is no single cause of testicular cancer, but some factors that put people at higher risk include:
- Family or personal history of testicular cancer
- Being between ages 15 and 49
- Delayed descent of the testes (if not corrected early)
- Abnormal testicle development
Some people who develop testicular cancer don’t have any of these risk factors. That is why it is important to know what is normal for your testicles. Check your testicles often and report any changes to your doctor.
For more information on testicular cancer, visit: