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Tips 506: How to detect cancer early



Throughout the month of October, we have spoken with individuals and organizations committed to improving early cancer detection in Costa Rica. Factors of all kinds that hinder detection, from economic limitations and geography, to cultural issues. However, sometimes people don’t take the right tests because they just don’t know they should.

So, here in Tips 506, we’ve summarized what we learned during this month of October 2021. Our conversations with experts, including multiple doctors from the Costa Rican Social Security System (Caja, or CCSS), give us the confidence to share this information with you, but we want to clarify that the final recommendation is, of course, your doctor’s—and it will depend on your history and health status.


Early detection of breast cancer

  • Women between the ages of 45 and 69 should have a mammogram every two years.
  • If there is a history of breast cancer in your family, especially your mother or sister, you should start these controls at a younger age.
  • Self-examination can be performed but is NOT a substitute for a mammogram. When something can be felt in the breast during a self-examination, it has usually been growing for some time.

Early detection of cervical cancer

  • Women between 20 and 65 should have a Pap smear at least every two years. The sensitivity of this test is low, but annual or bi-annual follow-up increases confidence in the result.
  • You can also get a HPV virus test every five years: it is more sensitive, but also more expensive.


Early detection of testicular cancer

  • Men between the ages of 20 and 40 should perform a self-exam at least once a week. This consists of palpating the testicles during a warm bath.

Early detection of prostate cancer

  • Men between the ages of 50 and 75 should have a prostate-specific antigen blood test and a digital rectal exam every two years. If these tests are positive, a biopsy should be performed for a definitive diagnosis.
  • If there is a history of prostate cancer in your father or brother, you should start checkups at age 40.


Early detection of gastric cancer

  • In Costa Rica, the CCSS performs an examination called Gastroduodenal Series for people over 50 years of age in areas with high incidence of this cancer, such as Cartago and the Los Santos area, and will soon begin screening in Puntarenas and the Southern Zone. This examination consists of an X-ray as a first screening for early detection of lesions. It is not recommended for regular or generalized screening because of the consequences of exposure to radiation.

Early detection of colorectal Cancer

  • Men and women ages 50 to 74 should have a fecal occult blood test every two years. If this test is positive, a colonoscopy and biopsy should be performed.
  • A colonoscopy is also recommended every five years after age 50.

Early detection of skin cancer

  • Women and men of all ages should monitor moles and other marks on their body by checking the ABCDE:
    • A – is it asymmetrical?,
    • B – are the borders irregular?,
    • C – are there different colors inside the mole?,
    • D – is the diameter greater than 0.5 cm?,
    • E – is the mark evolving, changing over time?

Browse our entire October edition, “The Future of Cancer,” here.


El Colectivo 506
El Colectivo 506
El equipo editorial de El Colectivo 506 trabajó en conjunto para publicar esta nota. The editorial staff of El Colectivo 506 worked together to publish this article.


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