Physician's Weekly
June 24, 2022
How long does it take for cancers to be detected? (Part I)

Q: Are most cancers there for a while before they are actually detected?

On the day that cancer is detected by the patient, doctor, or test, the cancer has already been around for months and in many instances, years. Today and next Friday, I will address your question by looking at a few of the more common types of cancers. It must be emphasized that most cancers are curable if detected early.

Breast: Breast cancer cell numbers double every 30-60 days. It takes 2 to 5 years from the time the cancer cell first appears to the time that a cancerous lump can be palpated.

Regular mammograms starting at age 40 can detect breast cancer up to 1-2 years before it can be felt. Not all breast cancers will be detected by mammograms. This is often the case in younger women or women with dense breasts. It is therefore recommended starting at age 20 women have their breasts examined every 2-3 years by their doctor, and yearly from 40.

Colon/ Rectal: The American Cancer Society notes that it takes a polyp 10 to 15 years before it turns into cancer. Hence with regular screening from age 45, colon cancer can be detected at a stage when it is totally curable. Screening methods that can be carried out to detect colon/ rectal cancer at an early and treatable stage include:

Faecal Occult Blood – Three consecutive stool samples are collected and submitted to the lab where it is tested for (hidden) blood.

Colonoscopy – This is whereby a flexible tube (colonoscope) 160-170cm long is inserted via the anus to directly visualize the inner walls of the entire colon (large intestine).

Sigmoidoscopy – A rigid or flexible tube between 25-30cm is inserted via the anus to visualize the inner walls of the lowest part of the large intestine (sigmoid colon).

Other tests (where available) – Stool DNA test, CT Scan (Virtual) Colonoscopy.

Prostate: Prostate cancer can take up to 15 years or more before spreading to other parts of the body. Early detection when the cancer is confined to the prostate is critical if prostate cancer is to be cured. The blood’s prostate-specific antigen (PSA) level is one of the best ways to screen for early prostate cancer. Coming out of a landmark study published in the New England Journal of Medicine last month, it was reconfirmed that PSA screening was an extremely sensitive screening tool for the early detection of prostate cancer; especially in persons at high risk for the development of prostate cancer – e.g. Black men. Over the age of 40 men should have their PSA test done every 1 to 3 years, in accordance with their doctor’s recommendations. The Digital Rectal Examination (DRE) may also be done to screen for prostate cancer; however, the DRE should not be exclusively relied upon for the detection of prostate cancer.

Next week we will look at pancreatic, lung, endometrial (uterine/ womb), and kidney cancers.

Author: Dr. C. Malcolm Grant – Family Physician, c/o Family Care Clinic, Arnos Vale,, [email protected], 1(784)570-9300 (Office), 1(784)455-0376 (WhatsApp)
Disclaimer: The information provided in the above article is for educational purposes only and does not substitute for professional medical advice. Please consult a medical professional or healthcare provider if you are seeking medical advice, diagnoses, or treatment. Dr. C. Malcolm Grant, Family Care Clinic or The Searchlight Newspaper or their associates, respectively, are not liable for risks or issues associated with using or acting upon the information provided above.