Sure, mammograms and colonoscopies aren’t comfortable, but making these high on your priority list can go a long way to protect your whole health. After all, your best odds of beating cancer begin with proactive screenings, which can detect cancer even before symptoms surface.
“Screenings are the most efficient way a doctor can detect cancer in its earliest, most treatable stage,” said Mridula Vinjamuri, MD, of AdventHealth Medical Group Hematology Oncology at Calhoun. “It’s important to know what screenings to get at what age to protect your whole health during every phase of life.”
For Detecting Breast Cancer
Self-Exams: Every woman should perform a breast self-exam monthly to check for lumps or changes. Notify your primary care provider or OB/GYN right away with any concerns. Pick the same time of the month, each month, so it becomes part of your regular routine. It’s also important to note that men can also get breast cancer, so they should also be concerned should they find any changes to their breast tissue.
Mammograms: A screening mammogram is an annual preventative measure for women age 40 and older who haven’t experienced abnormal breast symptoms. Women younger than 40 may also be advised to have a mammogram depending on family history and other risk factors.
MRI: Women at a higher risk for breast cancer may need a breast MRI. This technology uses magnets and radio waves to take pictures of the breasts that are more detailed than the images produced with a mammogram.
For Detecting Cervical Cancer
Pap Test: Also commonly referred to a pap smear, this test can help detect cervical cancer. During the test, cells are collected from the cervix and vagina and viewed under a microscope for any abnormalities. Regular screening of women between the ages of 21 and 65 years with the pap test decreases the chance of dying from cervical cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. It’s important to talk to your doctor about a personalized pap test schedule for you.
HPV Screening: A human papillomavirus (HPV) screening can also detect cervical cancer. Cells are collected from the cervix to check for an infection caused by a type of HPV linked to cervical cancer.
For Detecting Colorectal Cancer
Colonoscopy: Doctors recommend getting a colonoscopy beginning at age 50 for most patients, but sooner for patients with certain risk factors. A colonoscopy can detect polyps or growths in the colon or rectum. Not all polyps are malignant, but a particular type of polyp is more likely to indicate colon cancer. Your risk factors and the results of past colonoscopies will determine how often you should get them.
Fecal Occult Blood Test: In addition to a colonoscopy, several other screening tests can detect colon cancer, including a fecal occult blood test that checks for blood in stool.
Stool DNA Test: Testing a sample of your stool can help doctors look for blood and biomarkers found in colon cancer.
For Detecting Head, Neck and Oral Cancer
Some screenings are much less invasive than a colonoscopy. To check for head, neck and oral cancer, your primary care provider will feel your lymph nodes, check for lumps on your neck and lumps or sores in your nose, mouth and throat.
Your dentist will also check for signs of head, neck and oral cancer. That’s another reason why a regular dental exam is important for your overall health.
For Detecting Lung Cancer
Low-dose CT scans: Typically, patients don’t notice lung cancer symptoms until the cancer has spread and is difficult to treat. For that reason, doctors recommended lung CTs for people between the ages of 55 and 80 who have a history of heavy smoking. Your doctor can discuss more specific guidelines as they relate to your whole-health plan.
For Detecting Prostate Cancer
DRE Exam: A digital rectal exam (DRE) can be used to detect an abnormal prostate.
PSA Test: Depending on a man’s risk factors, doctors may order a PSA test. This blood test looks at the level of prostate specific antigen (PSA), which is made by the prostate. Higher than normal PSA levels can signal prostate cancer.
For Detecting Skin Cancer
Self-Exam: You’re the first person who may notice if a mole on the skin has changed. Use the ABCDE test to determine if you should see a dermatologist about a questionable mole:
- A - Asymmetry (one half of the mole isn’t the same as the other)
- B - Border irregularity
- C - Color that isn’t uniform
- D - Diameter greater than 6mm (the size of a pencil eraser)
- E - Evolving size, shape or color
A lesion on the skin that doesn’t seem to heal also can be a sign of skin cancer.
Physical Exam: Your dermatologist will also perform a full body skin exam to look for moles, birthmarks or other pigmented areas that look abnormal in color, size, shape or texture. Your risk factors will determine how often the dermatologist will want to see you back for another exam.
Do Your Part to Stay Ahead of Cancer
“Talk to your primary care provider to see if you’re on track with your screenings based on your age and risk factors,” said Dr. Vinjamuri. “Staying ahead of your cancer risk factors by following through on your recommended screenings can help doctors catch cancer early and offer the best possible treatments to offer the most hope for a cure.”