Kathryn E. Vinson, MS, CCRC
Over the last few months, one of the things that I have really harped on a lot is screening, screening, screening. Its not that I have a one-track mind – far from it in fact, but the truth of the matter is that screening for cancers and other diseases can save your life! Let’s take a look at breast cancer as an example. When caught early – stage 0 or 1 – the five-year survival rate is almost 100%; however, that number drops to only 22% with stage 4 disease. With that in mind, I’d like to visit with you today about common screening tests and the recommendations for those, that we should utilize if we are able. The information that I’m presenting is the latest recommendations from both the CDC and the American Cancer Society (ACS), so consider this a one stop shopping experience for screening recommendations!
This one has been on my mind a lot lately, with a dear family friend currently fighting the monster. Both the CDC and ACS recommend mammograms as the number one method of early detection for breast cancer. We ladies should start having yearly mammograms from the ages of 45 to 55, with earlier screenings offered to ladies with a family history of breast cancer or breasts that are prone to cancer, such as dense breasts. After 55, ladies with a clear history can go to an every other year schedule. Remember – menopause doesn’t mean that we are out of the woods for cancer. The ACS says that if you are healthy and have a life expectancy longer than ten years – keep up those mammograms!
Its also important to remember a couple things when we discuss mammograms. There have been concerns voiced about the radiation exposure to our breasts during mammograms. If this is a concern for you, discuss other options with your doctor, such as ultrasounds or MRIs. Finally, most states require that insurance covers the cost of ultrasound or MRI for women with dense breasts, as healthy, but dense breast tissue is difficult to differentiate from a tumor.
Cervical cancer is definitely a sneaky one, that likes to hide and not show symptoms until it has reached stages 3 or 4. Luckily, we have the ability to screen for this disease via yearly pelvic exams and pap smears. Is it pleasant – heck no! But it’s a lot better than the alternative. Ladies in their 20’s should have a pap test done every three years at a minimum, and ladies from 30 to 65 should have a pap plus an HPV screening every 5 years (this is known as co-testing). Why? The human papilloma virus is responsible for a vast number of cervical cancers every year – if your physicians know that you are HPV positive or negative, that makes screening test scheduling that much easier. Once you have reached 65, and you have a clean history of pap tests for at least ten years – you should be in the clear and it is not recommended to continue paps.
Keep in mind that if you have been vaccinated against HPV, you should still have pap tests as recommended by your physician, as not all cervical cancers are caused by HPV.
So, the age of 45 is creeping up on me. Still a few years to go, but that is the age where screening is recommended to begin in the fight against colorectal cancers. These screenings can be in the form of highly sensitive tests that are performed on a stool sample, or via the traditional method of a screening colonoscopy. Both groups recommend that regular screening continue through age 75, and may be discontinued afterwards if previous exams have been clean. Depending upon the results of your exams, follow-ups tend to be ordered at five- or ten-year intervals.
Remember my friends, colonoscopies can stop cancer before it begins. Doctors can remove pre-cancerous growths, known as polyps, and stop cancer in its tracks. Don’t ignore this screening!
While screening for lung cancer in the general population isn’t necessary or recommended, if you are ages 55 to 74, and have a history of heavy smoking (at least 30 packs per year), you should talk to your doctor about yearly screening for lung cancer. This includes people that have quit smoking within the prior fifteen years. For this screening, a low dose CT scan is used to take a look at your lungs for any abnormal growths.
You men didn’t think I had forgotten about you, did you? Prostate cancer can be easily treated when caught early – but the caveat is that you must do your screenings – digital rectal exam included. As someone that has never experienced this type of exam, I’m going to leave it to Mike Rowe of “Dirty Jobs” fame to explain it. Seriously, click the link, he explains it with is typical humor, but also with compassion.
Current recommendations state that gentlemen should begin prostate cancer screenings at 50, but earlier if they are of African-American decent, of have had a close family member diagnosed with prostate cancer, screenings should start about five years earlier.
As always, much love, many prayers, and abundant blessings to all of the warriors out there!