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The theory behind early detection is that the earlier cancer is discovered, the easier it is to treat, leaving the patient with a better prognosis.
Proponents of the early detection "movement" have taught millions of women how to perform self breast exams. Women who perform these monthly self exams have caught tumors months, even years, before they would have been detected with a mammogram.
Furthermore, the campaigns that encourage women to visit their gynecologist yearly and get a Pap smear have helped many women avoid cervical cancer.
Men are becoming more informed about their risk for cancer too. They are encouraged to perform routine testicular exams at home, in order to catch any changes. More and more men are also visiting their doctor for a prostate exam and blood test to screen for prostate cancer.
We are on the right track. Still, there is always more we can do. The National Cancer Institute has created the Early Detection Research Network (EDRN), an organization devoted to improving early detection of cancer. Through their research, the EDRN is searching for more concrete ways to detect cancer. Using regular blood tests and genetic testing, the EDRN is testing ways to help make the detection of cancer easier, more reliable and even earlier.