Health awareness

Understanding early-stage cancer

Early cancer detection may lead to better treatment outcomes

September 9, 2021

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When taking on cancer, you want time on your side. The potential for a better outcome is greater when cancer is detected early, before it has spread. With more awareness around the importance of routine cancer screening, more cancers cases can be diagnosed in earlier stages. But important work still remains to continue to improve care for early-stage disease.

Understanding the different stages of cancer

When cancer is diagnosed, doctors perform tests to understand how advanced it is and whether or not it’s spread from the original site to other areas in the body. This information, known as staging, can provide important insights into the odds for recurrence (the cancer coming back) and recovery, and help guide treatment decisions.

Diagnosing and treating cancer earlier

When certain types of cancer are diagnosed early, patients may live longer if they receive treatment before the cancer spreads to distant parts of the body. The medical community generally considers cancer care a success when doctors can no longer detect the cancer five years following diagnosis.

Treatment for early-stage cancer typically involves surgery. Radiation, chemotherapy and other medicines may also be used before surgery to help to reduce the size of the tumor, or after surgery to lower the chance of the cancer coming back.

“Care for people with metastatic cancer has changed dramatically in recent decades, while the approach to caring for people with early-stage disease has remained fairly traditional with surgery, sometimes coupled with chemotherapy or radiation.”

Kentaro Imai, M.D., M.P.H

Clinical director of oncology

“Cancer research is moving in an exciting direction, with greater focus on discovering therapies for people with early-stage cancer. I’m hopeful that this research will deliver new options, and more time, to patients and their families,” added Dr. Imai.