Checking for cancer or for conditions that may become cancer is an important health step everyone can take. Screening can help doctors find and treat several types of cancer early. Early detection is important because when abnormal tissue or cancer is found early, the better the chance it can be treated successfully.
There are a number of cancer screenings that men and women should receive during their lives. Five cancers commonly screened for include:
Guidelines set forth by the American Cancer Association recommend women are screened annually after age 40 but, if you have a family history of cancer, talk to your physician about when you should begin screenings. 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.
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 pre-cancers, cell changes that have the potential to develop into cervical cancer if not treated.
Prostate cancer can often be found early by testing the amount of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) in a man’s blood. Another way to find prostate cancer early is the digital rectal exam (DRE). The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends that men have a chance to make an informed decision with their health care provider about whether to be screened for prostate cancer. The decision should be made after getting information about the uncertainties, risks and potential benefits of prostate cancer screening. The discussion about screening should take place at:
- Age 50 for men who are at average risk of prostate cancer and are expected to live at least 10 more years.
- Age 45 for men at high risk of developing prostate cancer. This includes African Americans and men who have a first-degree relative (father, brother, or son) diagnosed with prostate cancer at an early age (younger than age 65).
- Age 40 for men at even higher risk (those with more than one first-degree relative who had prostate cancer at an early age).
According to the American Cancer Society, more than 224,000 people in the United States will be told they have lung cancer this year. As the number one cancer killer of both men and women, the disease will take more lives this year than colon, breast, pancreatic and prostate cancers combined. In fact, less than fifty percent of those diagnosed will be alive one year later.
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.
Regular screening can often find colorectal cancer early, when it is most likely to be curable. In many people, screening can also prevent colorectal cancer altogether. This is because some polyps, or growths, can be found and removed before they have the chance to turn into cancer. Risk factors for colorectal cancer include certain types of diets, physical inactivity, obesity, smoking and heavy alcohol use.
Regular screening, beginning at age 50, is the key to preventing colorectal cancer. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends screening for colorectal cancer beginning at age 50 years and continuing until age 75 years. People at higher risk of developing colorectal cancer should begin screening at a younger age, and may need to be tested more frequently.
There are a few methods of screening. One common test used to screen for colorectal cancer is a colonoscopy. Talk to your doctor about what screenings you should receive and when you should receive them. The few minutes you take to be screened could save your life.