Health Care

The Importance of Cancer Screenings

A doctor reviewing test results with a male patient at an appointment.

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When Buckingham Palace announced King Charles had been diagnosed with cancer, many in the United Kingdom and around the world flocked to their doctors to learn more about how to catch cancer early.

While the palace hasn’t shared what kind of cancer King Charles has, his diagnosis sparked a meaningful conversation about the importance of cancer screenings and early treatment. Learn how early detection through cancer screening can save lives.

How Cancer Screenings Save Lives

Cancer screenings are routine tests done to check for cancer and are part of healthy preventive care for many adults. These screenings aim to identify cancer while it’s still in its early stages before it has metastasized (spread). And that’s crucial since patients often don’t experience symptoms in cancer’s earliest stages. If your provider notices something on your screening, they will recommend additional tests to confirm if it is cancer and create a treatment plan.

Cancer is easier to treat when it’s caught early, and patients are more likely to survive and recover. Patients also have more treatment options, including surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, medication and other emerging treatments.

Most recommended cancer screenings are completely covered by insurance carriers, including Medicaid and Medicare and can include:

  • Blood tests
  • Computed tomography (CT) scans
  • Endoscopies
  • Physical exams
  • X-rays

These screenings can help us detect early signs of cancer like tumors, polyps and, sometimes, precancerous cells.

Genetic testing is also available for some types of cancers to check if you’re more likely to develop them later in life.

Common Cancer Screenings

Your physician will recommend different screenings depending on gender, age, lifestyle and family medical history. Some screening tests are more invasive than others, carry higher risks or may be less accurate. Your doctor will discuss the pros and cons of each test with you.

Many of these screening guidelines come from the American Cancer Society, National Cancer Institute and the United States Preventive Services Task Force, which regularly update their recommendations based on new research.

Some of the most common cancer screenings include:

  • Breast cancer screenings, including annual mammograms (X-rays of your breasts) for women aged 45-55 and every two years for women 55 and older. Women should also perform monthly breast exams at home to check for lumps.
  • Cervical cancer screenings, including Pap smears, are recommended every three years beginning at age 21. During a Pap smear, your provider will take a sample of the tissue of your cervix to look for cancer cells.
  • Colorectal cancer screenings, such as colonoscopies, are performed every 10 years, starting at age 45. Other tests include barium enemas or stool DNA tests. Colonoscopies are endoscopic procedures that take pictures of the inside of your large intestine.
  • Endometrial cancer screenings for post-menopausal women who experience bleeding. While there is no standard screening option for endometrial cancer, women should have regular physical exams and update their gynecologists with any new symptoms.
  • Lung cancer screenings, like low-dose CT scans. Experts recently expanded lung cancer screening guidelines to cover more adults, so be sure to speak with a physician if you are a smoker, former smoker or have been exposed to secondhand smoke to understand if you’re eligible.
  • Prostate exams for men start before age 50. This exam often includes a blood test and a physical exam of the prostate.

You may also receive screening for oral cancer when you’re at the dentist and skin cancer when you visit the dermatologist.

Most cancer screenings begin after age 40. However, if you have a family history of cancer, your doctor may recommend earlier or more frequent screening. They may also recommend genetic tests to see if you carry genes linked to certain types of cancer.

Support at Every Stage

Screenings help catch cancer early, and we’re here to treat it with the latest technology and treatment programs. With whole-person care, our compassionate team is ready to help you through every step of this journey. Learn more.

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