The numbers are staggering: one in three women will be diagnosed with cancer in her lifetime, and cancer remains the second-leading cause of death among women, after heart disease. Are you doing all you can to protect yourself?
“One of the best things women can do for their health is ensure that they’re receiving cancer screenings,” says Pallavi Rastogi, MD, oncologist with the Cancer Center of Paoli Hospital. “Being proactive is key in detecting and treating cancers before they advance.”
Below, Dr. Rastogi explores screening guidelines for some of the most common cancers that affect women.
An annual mammogram remains the best way to detect breast cancer in its earliest stages. Thanks to new technology, including 3D mammography offered at all Main Line Health hospitals, mammograms now offer a clearer picture and allow physicians to better pinpoint the shape, size, and location of breast abnormalities. Learn more about 3D mammography.
Guidelines set forth by the American Cancer Association recommend women be screened annually after age 40, but if you have a family history of cancer, talk to your physician about when you should begin screenings.
In addition to mammograms, all women should be conducting periodic self breast exams. Talk to your OB/GYN about how to perform a proper exam at your next appointment.
There’s a reason ovarian cancer has been dubbed ‘the silent killer.’
“The symptoms of ovarian cancer, like bloating, pelvic discomfort, and loss of appetite are common and often mistaken for something else,” explains Dr. Rastogi. “By the time many women report their symptoms, the cancer is in an advanced stage.”
Although there are currently no screening tests for ovarian cancer, Dr. Rastogi urges women to become familiar with its symptoms and report them immediately. If you have a family history of ovarian cancer, you might also be eligible for genetic testing.
Lung cancer is responsible for 80 percent of cancer deaths among women, and is the leading cause of cancer deaths in both men and women. Until recently, no screening methods were available to detect the cancer in its earliest stages.
That changed in 2011, when the United States Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) introduced low-dose CT scans. These screenings, available to patients with a specific set of risk factors, can reduce lung cancer deaths by up to 20 percent in high-risk patients. Talk to your physician to find out if you are a candidate for a lung cancer screening.
Thanks to regular screening tests, cervical cancer is the easiest gynecologic cancer to prevent. HPV and Pap tests, which can be performed by your OB/GYN at your annual checkup, are key in helping prevent and detect precancers, cell changes that have the potential to develop into cervical cancer if not treated.
“The goal of these screenings is to find abnormal cells and treat them before they can turn into cancer, which is why it’s so important that women visit their OB/GYN for an annual appointment,” says Dr. Rastogi. “The earlier these abnormalities are detected, the earlier we can address the problem.”
Pap testing typically begins at age 21, and HPV testing is offered to women starting at age 30.
Although these screening methods offer the opportunity for earlier detection and treatment, there are many types of cancer for which screenings are not available, such as uterine or endometrial. Play it safe by reporting any changes in your health or unfamiliar symptoms to your physician, and scheduling annual physicals and OB/GYN appointments.