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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Cancer Screening

Cancer screening can help detect the presence of cancer before any symptoms appear, thus making it easier to treat. There are certain kinds of screening for the various types of cancer. Screening methods include physical examination, laboratory tests, imaging procedures, and genetic tests. These guidelines reflect recent changes made by the government but not every organization agrees on what age to start screening. Talk to your health care provider for more information. Below is information on the most common types of screening.

Breast Cancer:

Mammograms: Women ages 50 to 74 should have a mammogram every 2 years. Women between 40 and 50 years should talk with their doctor about when to start getting mammograms. A mammogram is an x-ray of the chest and can detect many tumors that are too small to feel. (The American Cancer Society still recommends starting mammograms at the age of 40 (American Cancer Society Guidelines for the Early Detection of Cancer)

Clinical Breast Exam: Women should do breast self-examinations on a regular basis, but it is also very important to have a clinical breast exam done by a doctor or other health professional. Clinical breast exam (CBE) should be done about every 3 years for women in their 20s and 30s and every year for women 40 and over.

Cervical Cancer

Pap Test: A Pap test is a procedure to collect cells from the surface of the cervix and vagina. This screening is done every 1 to 3 years in women age 21 and over. If you are over 65, check with your health care professional to see if a pap test is still needed.

Here is what the American Cancer Society recommends:

Beginning at age 30, women who have had 3 normal Pap test results in a row may get screened every 2 to 3 years. Women older than 30 may also get screened every 3 years with either the conventional or liquid-based Pap test, plus the human papilloma virus (HPV) test.

Women 70 years of age or older who have had 3 or more normal Pap tests in a row and no abnormal Pap test results in the last 10 years may choose to stop having Pap tests.

Women who have had a total hysterectomy (removal of the uterus and cervix) may also choose to stop having Pap tests, unless the surgery was done as a treatment for cervical cancer or pre-cancer.

Women who have had a hysterectomy without removal of the cervix should continue to have Pap tests.

Some women -- because of their history -- may need to have a different screening schedule for cervical cancer.

Colorectal Cancer

Screening for colon cancer should begin at the age of 50, unless your doctor recommends earlier testing. The frequency of the tests may vary depending on certain risk factors. Both men and women should have one or more of the following tests:

A stool test, also called a fecal occult blood test (FOBT) - every year. FOBT is done in the
privacy of your home.

Flexible sigmoidoscopy - every 5 years. This takes place at a doctor’s office or other medical setting. If any unusual growths are found, they can usually be removed at the time. Some people will need a follow-up colonoscopy.

Colonoscopy - every 10 years. This test takes place at a doctor’s office or other medical setting under light sedation. If any unusual growths are found, they can be removed at the

Lung Cancer:

There are two screening methods for lung cancer but they have not yet shown that they decrease the risk of dying from lung cancer.

Chest x-ray: A chest x-ray is an x-ray of the organs and bones inside the chest.

Sputum cytology: Sputum cytology is a procedure in which a sample of sputum (mucus that is brought up from the lungs by coughing) is viewed under a microscope to check for cancer cells.

Prostate Cancer:

Prostate screening for most men should begin at the age of 50. For those at higher risk, your doctor may suggest starting screening earlier.

Digital rectal examination (DRE): For this test, the doctor inserts a gloved and lubricated finger into the rectum. This allows the doctor to feel the back portion of the prostate for size and any irregular or abnormally firm areas.

Prostate specific antigen (PSA) test: PSA is a substance produced by cells from the prostate gland and released into the blood. The PSA test measures the PSA level in the blood. A small amount of blood is drawn from the arm. The doctor checks the blood to see if the PSA level is normal. The higher the PSA, the more likely there is a problem. However, many factors can contribute to a high PSA level, such as an enlarged prostate, a prostate infection, and certain medical procedures.

The DRE and PSA test cannot tell if you have cancer; they can only suggest the need for further tests.

From the American Cancer Society: The American Cancer Society recommends that men make an informed decision with their doctor about whether to be tested for prostate cancer. Research has not yet proven that the potential benefits of testing outweigh the harms of testing and treatment. The American Cancer Society believes that men should not be tested without learning about what we know and don’t know about the risks and possible benefits of testing and treatment.

Testicular Cancer:

Testicular Self-examination: For men over the age of 14, a monthly self-exam of the testicles is an effective way of becoming familiar with this area of the body and thus enabling the detection of testicular cancer at an early -- and very curable -- stage. Why do you need to do it monthly? Because the point of the self exam is not to find something wrong today. The point is to learn what everything feels like when things are normal, and to check back every month to make sure that nothing has changed. If something HAS changed, you will know it and you can do something about it. (from the Testicular Cancer Resource Center)

Here are some suggestions from the American Cancer Society for reducing your risk of developing cancer:

Stay away from tobacco.
Stay at a healthy weight.
Get moving with regular physical activity.
Eat healthy with plenty of fruits and vegetables.
Limit how much alcohol you drink (if you drink at all).
Protect your skin.
Know yourself, your family history, and your risks.
Have regular check-ups and cancer screening tests.

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