Screening for cancer of unknown primary | Cancer Research UK
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Screening for cancer of unknown primary

Men and woman discussing unknown primary cancer

This page has information about screening for cancer of unknown primary (CUP).

Screening means testing people for a disease when it is in its very early stages, before any symptoms have appeared. Before screening for any type of cancer is possible, doctors must have an accurate test to use. The test must be reliable in picking up cancers that are there. And it must not give a positive result in people who do not have cancer. Because unknown primary cancer can occur anywhere in the body it is not possible to carry out screening. At the moment, there is no screening test that can check a whole body for cancer – for example, there is no blood test that can pick up every type of cancer. 

Giving people regular scans would not help because a cancer must be about the size of a pea before it shows on a scan. And a cancer that is the size of a pea already has billions of cells. So a cancer with millions, or even hundreds of thousands of cells is too small to be seen and would not be found by a scan.

Taking part in national screening programmes for breast, bowel and cervical cancer may help to pick up a cancer in the early stages. It is important to make sure you know the early symptoms to look for and get them checked out if you have them. But unfortunately for some people, there are no early symptoms to warn them that a cancer is developing.

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Updated: 15 July 2014