What Would Happen If More People Got Cancer Screenings?


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Cancer screening can help catch cancer early when it is more treatable. But participation in screening is sporadic at best, especially among Latinos. 

What would happen if more people got screened for cancer? 

To find out, a team of U.S. and Canadian researchers used computer modeling to estimate the number of deaths that could be prevented, and the harms caused, if more people followed recommended cancer screening guidelines. 

Let’s explore what they found and what it means for Latino cancer. 

The Impact of More Screening: Potential Lives Saved 

Cancer screenings can catch early cases of lung, colorectal, cervical, and breast cancers. 

But only 13% of people eligible are up to date for lung cancer screening; 69% for colorectal cancer screening; 73% for cervical cancer screening; and 76% for breast cancer screening.  

In the new study, published in JAMA Network, the researchers examine at a 10-percentage-point increase in the uptake of recommended cancer screening among eligible US residents. 

“We opted to evaluate the impact of a 10–percentage point increase in uptake so that the magnitude of the increase was the same across all cancer screening tests, regardless of the baseline level of screening for that cancer,” said the study lead, Dr. Amy Knudsen. 

 This boost in screening could prevent:  

  • 1,010 deaths from lung cancer (among 454,000 people eligible for screening in 2021) 
  • 11,070 deaths from colorectal cancer (among 3.91 million eligible) 
  • 1,790 deaths from breast cancer (among 2.18 million eligible) 
  • 1,710 deaths from cervical cancer (among 2.13 million eligible) 

“The increased uptake of recommended screening strategies would help to reduce the burden of cancer in the United States,” Knudsen said. 

The Impact of More Screening: Potential Harm 

While increase of screenings can be beneficial, the new study also found how increases in screenings can have negative consequences: 

More screening could generate: 

  • 100,000 false–positive lung scans 
  • 6,000 colonoscopy complications (e.g., bleeding) 
  • 300,000 false–positive mammograms 
  • 348,000 cervical biopsies over the lifetimes of those individuals 

“Decision makers, whether they be individuals and their doctors or health care systems, must consider whether the benefits of any screening test outweigh the risks,” Knudsen said. “This is particularly important for newer tests that have not yet been subject to rigorous evaluation.” 

The State of Cancer Screening among Latinos 

Latinos often have lower cancer screening rates than their peers, despite high rates of certain cancer types and/or worse outcomes among others. 

The reasons for this are complex. 

Lower screening rates can be tied to access to healthcare and being uninsured or underinsured. Other important elements are the non-medical issues that impact our health – the social determinants of health (SDoH) – such as access to healthy food, transportation, income. 

“Additionally, not all clinicians are aware of current screening recommendations and, even if they are aware, some are not recommending screening to their patients,” Dr. Knudsen said. See the current screening recommendations. “We hope that our work makes the case that additional efforts to increase screening rates would result in fewer cancer deaths.”  

Dr. Amelie G. Ramirez, director of Salud America! at UT Health San Antonio, uplifted strategies to boost screening among Latinos.  

Check out Ramirez’s webinar on screening for Latinas and webinar on screening for Latino men. 

Still, screening alone won’t be enough to meet the Biden Administration’s goal of reducing cancer deaths by 50% in 25 years, Knudsen said.  

“Targeted efforts to increase screening test uptake among individuals at high risk of cancer death will be needed, along with advances in prevention and treatment,” Knudsen said.  

How Can Clinical Trials Help?  

Cancer screenings are important to catch cancer early.  

To fight cancer on a community level, clinical trials are another important action. 

Clinical trials are studies with volunteers that help researchers learn how to slow, manage, and treat different diseases. But they need diverse volunteers. 

“The massive underrepresentation of Latinos in clinical trials makes it hard for researchers to develop new treatments for this group, which suffers a heavy burden of several cancer types,” Ramirez said. 

Ramirez is creating new ways to encourage Latinos to volunteer for cancer and Alzheimer’s clinical trials, with support from Genentech, a member of the Roche Group. 

She is raising awareness by using Salud America! to showcase open clinical trials and uplift the stories of Latino clinical trial participants along with social media events and webinars. 

Where can you find an open clinical trial that is the best fit for you or someone in your family?  

Visit UT Health San Antonio’s Glenn Biggs Institute for Alzheimer’s and Neurodegenerative Diseases website to view their available clinical trials and eligibility requirements.

Search the Mays Cancer Center at UT Health San Antonio’s Find a Clinical Trial database to learn more about available clinical trials and eligibility requirements.

Seek a cancer trial anywhere in the nation here.

“Latinos in clinical trials are not only helping themselves, but they’re also building a future with better treatments that can help their families and communities for many years,” Ramirez said. 


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