Early cancer detection: Preventive checkups can save lives

Man in a waiting room

Early cancer detection: Preventive checkups can save lives

USZ: Our partner for health issues

Thanks to our partnership with the University Hospital Zurich, we benefit from its expertise in health issues. And we are happy to share this with our customers and any interested parties. This allows us to inform them about topics that help them to live well and healthily – a sort of additional fourth pillar of provision.

Cancer is one of the most common causes of death in Switzerland. But many forms of cancer are easy to treat – if detected early enough. When is screening useful and how often should the tests be carried out? Experts from the University Hospital Zurich share their knowledge.

Bowel, breast or prostate: There are many offers for regular medical check-ups. In general, the following applies: A sensible lifestyle is the best prevention. "If you don't smoke, only drink alcohol in moderation, get enough exercise and are only slightly overweight, you are already doing a lot right," is the verdict of Prof. Dr. Christoph A. Meier, Director of the Department for Internal Medicine at the University Hospital Zurich (USZ).

Patients decide

Whether screenings are carried out is an individual decision. Christoph A. Meier recommends a preliminary talk for this: "Doctors should compare the advantages and disadvantages of screening and the consequences and risks, if any, in an understandable and transparent way." In medicine, this approach is known as shared decision-making, and it is standard practice at the USZ.

Colonoscopy: Definitely recommended

The usefulness of a colonoscopy as an early screening for bowel cancer is undisputed. And for everyone from the age of 50 at the latest. If nothing is discovered, the next examination is not necessary until ten years later, because bowel cancer usually grows slowly. If benign polyps are present, they can often be removed there and then, during the examination – this effectively prevents them from ever degenerating. And even if bowel cancer is detected at an early stage, the chances of curing it are very good. As a rule, the health insurance funds cover this screening every ten years according to the Ordinance on Compulsory Health Insurance Benefits. 

Christoph Schlag
PD Dr. med. Christoph Schlag

Unnecessary embarrassment can have serious consequences

Many people put off the examination out of fear or unnecessary embarrassment. "Undetected intestinal diseases can have major consequences for your health," says Christoph Schlag, Head Physician at the Clinic for Gastroenterology and Hepatology. "But nobody needs to be afraid: As the patient is put under light sedation the examination is neither unpleasant nor painful. And it's not embarrassing either: After all, the health professionals performing the check-ups are specialized in such screenings, it's an important part of their job."

Learn more: Koloskopie – Dickdarmspiegelung – USZ

Detect breast cancer thanks to mammography

Prof. Dr Isabell Witzel, Director of the Department of Gynecology at the USZ, recommends mammography for the early detection of breast cancer to women aged 50 and over. If there is a corresponding risk profile, for example, if there is breast cancer in the family, this check-up should be planned earlier. After this, the check-up should be carried out every two years, which is also covered by the compulsory health insurance in most cases. 

Isabell Witzel
Prof. Dr. med. Isabell Witzel

Examination much more pleasant thanks to new technology

"This usually detects tumors before any symptoms appear," says Isabell Witzel reassuringly. She knows that many women do not like the unpleasant "squeezing" of the breast in traditional mammography devices. At the USZ, this is no longer necessary thanks to the new high-tech "Mamma-CT" device: This method does not involve compression of the breast. In addition to mammography, the USZ has other diagnostic methods, including breast ultrasound, which increases the accuracy of results, especially in younger women. In young women with increased risk, the only automatic 3D breast ultrasound in Switzerland is often used. Which screening method is best depends on the patient's individual situation.

Learn more: Mammographie – USZ

Prof. Dr. Daniel Eberli
Prof. Dr. Daniel Eberli

Prostate cancer – very curable if detected early

Regular prostate cancer screening for men is very important, says Prof. Dr Daniel Eberli, Director of the Department of Urology at the USZ: If detected early, this form of cancer responds very well to treatment: "More than 80% are cured for life." Treatment methods have hugely improved over recent years, and with less aggressive tumors there are considerably fewer side effects than in the past. That is why Prof. Eberli recommends regular screenings from the age of 50. If direct relatives are known to have prostate cancer, the first check should be done at the age of 45.

More than 80 percent cured for life

In traditional prostate screening, the so-called PSA value is determined in the blood. It has been proven to prevent cases of cancer that would have been fatal. However, statistically speaking, conventional screening also detects cancer cases that would not have led to symptoms in the affected patient during their lifetime. "That is why the University Hospital Zurich offers a new blood test based on genetic biomarkers, which decisively improves the early detection of aggressive prostate cancer," reports Prof. Daniel Eberli. Several scientific studies with a total of over 75,000 participants verify the high accuracy of the so-called "Stockholm3" test. 

Learn more:
Prostatakrebs: Die Kunst der schonendsten Therapie – USZ 
Prostatakrebs: Bessere Früherkennung dank neuem Test – USZ 

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