Regularly Scheduled Screenings Can Detect Cancer Early
Medical statistics have shown that the earlier cancer is detected and appropriate treatment has begun, the better the outcome. While it is not possible to screen everyone for all cancer malignancies, there are many reliable cancer screenings available. Most likely with solid tumors such as breast, colon and prostate cancers, reliable screening tests are simple, cost-effective and relatively harmless. These screenings can detect many cancers early when treatment is most effective.
Breast Cancer Screening
Breast cancer is the second most common cancer in women after skin cancer. Mammography is the main tool used to screen for breast cancer, using x-ray technology to view the breasts and detect any abnormalities. Experts agree that women should talk to their health care provider to determine when it is right for them to begin screening for breast cancer, how often to screen and when to stop getting mammograms.
Mammogram Recommendations for Women at Average Risk
According to the American Cancer Society, mammogram recommendations for women at average risk include:
- Women between 40 and 44 have the option to start breast screenings with a mammogram every year
- Women 45 to 54 should get mammograms every year
- Women 55 and older should talk to their doctor about options to switch to a mammogram every other year, or if they should choose to continue yearly mammograms
Prostate Cancer Screening
Prostate cancer is one of the most common cancer in men and it can often be found even before symptoms occur. There are two ways to determine if a man has prostate cancer:
- Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA): Blood test to determine if higher than normal levels of this antigen are present.
- Digital Rectal Exam (DRE): Physical examination through the rectum to evaluate the size of the prostate gland.
If either of these tests is abnormal, further testing is necessary to make an accurate prostate cancer diagnosis and monitor treatment. Usually, a core needle biopsy is the method used to diagnose prostate cancer.
Prostate Cancer Screening for Men at Various Risk Levels
Based on the recommendations of the American Cancer Society, prostate cancer baseline screening for men includes talking with their healthcare provider to determine their risk level:
- Men age 40-45 should have a baseline prostate cancer screening (PSA blood test and digital rectal exam) if they are at higher risk for prostate cancer because a father, brother or son had prostate cancer at a young age
- Men age 45 and older that have an increased risk of prostate cancer, including African Americans and men whose father, brother or son had prostate cancer when younger than 65, should have a baseline prostate cancer screening (PSA blood test and digital rectal exam)
- Men age 50-69 at average risk should have a baseline prostate screening (PSA blood test and digital rectal exam)
Follow-up screenings are determined by the results of each individual PSA blood test.
Colon Cancer Screening
Colon cancer is the second leading cause of death from cancer in the United States. Cancer of the colon and rectum can occur in any age group although it is much more common after age 55.
Types of colon cancer screening tests may include:
- Colonoscopy screening
- DNA stool test
- Fecal occult blood test
- Virtual colonoscopy
If abnormal tissue or cancer is found early during colon cancer screening tests, it may be easier to treat. By the time colon cancer symptoms appear such as rectal bleeding, abdominal pain or changes in bowel habits, cancer may have begun to spread.
Colonoscopy Recommendations for Adults at Average Risk
Current colonoscopy recommendations for adults at average risk for colon cancer include:
- Women and men age 50 – colonoscopy every 10 years
- Women and men age 60 – colonoscopy every 10 years
- Women and men age 70 – colonoscopy every 10 years
- Women and men age 80 and older – discuss your needs with your doctor
For women and men determined to be at a higher risk of colon cancer, talk to your healthcare provider to determine a screening schedule that addresses your needs.
Lung Cancer Screening
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among both men and women. Many times lung cancer is not found until it has spread outside the lungs, associated with a poorer prognosis.
Low Dose CT Scan Recommendations for Adults at High Risk
The National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) recommends that healthy adults at high risk for lung cancer should talk to their doctor about screening with low dose computed tomography (LDCT).
An adult at high risk is defined as the following:
- 55-74 years old
- 30 pack years or more of smoking
- Quit smoking less than 15 years ago
- 50 years or older
- 20 pack year or more of smoking
- Other risk factor(s) such as contact with radon or asbestos, history of lung disease, history of other cancers, or family history of lung cancer
If you meet the criteria for a high risk adult, talk with your health care provider about a LDCT screening exam.
Cervical Cancer Screening
The American Cancer Society recommends screening in order to find cervical cancer at the earliest, most treatable stage. Screening can also identify pre-cancerous conditions that can be effectively treated to prevent cancer from forming.
Pap (Papanicolaou) Test
The Pap test is a procedure that collects cells from the cervix to look for abnormalities under a microscope. The cells are reviewed in the laboratory to check for cancer or pre-cancerous changes in the cervical cells.
Human Papillomavirus (HPV) DNA Test
This is a swab test of the cervix and is used to determine the presence of the HPV gene. This can be used in combination with the Pap test or alone after an abnormal Pap test to determine if more testing or treatment is necessary.
Know your risk
The most important risk factor for developing cervical cancer is infection by the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is classified into low and high risk types depending how strong their link to cancer is. HPV infection is common, but most people can clear the infection and never have a problem.
Review your health history with your provider to determine your level of risk.
When to screen
The American Cancer Society along with the American Society for Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology recommend the following for women at low to average risk:
- 21-29 Pap test every 3 years
- 30-65 HPV and Pap every 5 years OR Pap alone every 3 years
- >65 No screening if previous negative screening results
Make an appointment with your primary care provider or gynecologist to discuss your cervical cancer risk and screening options.
For More Information About Cancer Screenings
If you would like to learn more about cancer screenings at Skagit Regional Health, please talk with your primary care provider. We can help you make an appointment for a cancer screening at one of our convenient locations.