Debate surrounds the need for Pap test after hysterectomy
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DEAR DR. ROACH: Recently, while donating blood, the nurse mentioned the various diseases and other things they test for in the blood before giving it to a recipient. My question is: If someone has cancer anywhere in the body but doesn't know it yet, would it be revealed during their testing? The nurse said that they had to call a donor and let the person know about liver cancer but she couldn't tell me if the blood testing would reveal all cancers. -- D.L.
ANSWER: Blood banks test donated blood extensively to be sure it is safe to give. They do not test the blood for any evidence that the donor may have unknown cancer (people with a known, active cancer may not give blood). In the case the nurse told you about, I suspect that the blood test revealed the donor had hepatitis C (a virus that the donor may have had), which is a leading cause of liver cancer (which would have been found during the evaluation for the positive hepatitis C blood test).
Unfortunately, there are no blood tests that can reliably diagnose cancer, with a very few specific exceptions, such as PSA testing. It may be different in the future, but for now, blood tests are not a major part of the screening for cancers. Colonoscopies, Pap smears and mammograms are the most common screening tests for cancer, and none of them is perfect.
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