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Surviving Cancer Starts with Early Screening

Cancer Care

For longer life and better health

According to the American Cancer Society, 1.3 million Americans will learn they have cancer this year. More than 550,000 will die from it.

But cancer doesn’t need to be so far-reaching and deadly. Many cancer cases can be prevented. One of the most important steps you can take is to follow recommended guidelines for cancer screenings.

Screening begins with you

Screening gives you the best chance of finding cancer as early as possible – while it’s small and before it has spread. The earlier you find it, the easier it is to treat and your chances of survival increase. 

My role as a nurse navigator at Methodist Estabrook Cancer Center is to help patients learn more about their hereditary cancer risk and their options for screening. While hereditary factors can play a role, there are many other individual factors that put you at risk for developing cancer: diet, activity level and tobacco use are just a few.

Screening guidelines

Discussing your risk factors with your health care provider can help determine when and what screening is right for you. The American Cancer Society also has a few recommendations on screening based on age and gender. 

Women

Breast Cancer Testing 
  • Know how your breasts look and feel and report any changes to your health care provider right away.
  • Women ages 40 to 44 should have the choice to start annual breast cancer screening with mammograms if they wish to do so. *Per American College of Radiology Guidelines
  • Starting at age 45, women should get mammograms every year.
  • It’s important to know if you are at higher than average risk for breast cancer. If you are, talk to a health care provider about when you need to start getting mammograms and whether you need to get other tests along with your mammograms.
Cervical Cancer Testing
  • Women at average risk between the ages of 21 and 29, have a Pap test done every three years. HPV tests should not be done unless a Pap test is abnormal.
  • Women between the ages of 30 and 65 should have both a Pap test and an HPV test every five years. This is the preferred approach, but it is also acceptable to have a Pap test alone every three years.
  • Women over the age of 65 who have had regular screenings with normal results should not be screened for cervical cancer. If you have been diagnosed with cervical pre-cancer, you should continue to be screened.
  • You don't need testing if you have had a hysterectomy which removed the uterus and cervix as long as it was done for reasons not related to cervical cancer.
  • Women at high risk for cervical cancer may need to be screened more often. Women at high risk might include those with HIV infection, organ transplant or exposure to the drug DES. You should talk to your health care provider.
Endometrial (Uterine) Cancer
  • At the time of menopause, you should be told about the risks and symptoms of endometrial cancer. Report any unexpected vaginal bleeding or spotting to your health care provider.
Colon Cancer Testing
  • All women at average risk should start testing at age 50. There are several testing options. Talk with a health care provider about which tests are best for you and how often testing should be done.
  • General recommendations include: Flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years, Colonoscopy every 10 years, Double contrast barium enema every five years, or stool-based testing every year.
Lung Cancer Testing
  • If you are age 55 or older, talk to a health care provider about your smoking history and whether you should get yearly low-dose CT scans to screen for early lung cancer. 
  • Screening may benefit if you are an active or former smoker (quit within the past 15 years), have no signs of lung cancer, and have a 30 pack-year smoking history. (A pack-year is one pack of cigarettes per day per year. One pack per day for 30 years or two packs per day for 15 years would both be 30 pack-years.) You should discuss the benefits, limitations, risks and potential costs of screening with a health care provider before testing is done. Not all health insurances cover the cost of this screening.


Men

Colon Cancer Testing
  • Find out if you are at high risk for colon cancer because of family history, genetic disorders or other factors. If you are at increased risk, talk to a health care provider about when you need to start testing and what tests are right for you.
Prostate Cancer Testing
  • Starting at age 45, African American men or men who have a father or brother who had prostate cancer before age 65 should talk with a doctor about the uncertainties, risks, and potential benefits of testing so they can decide if they want to be tested. 
  • Starting at age 50, all men at average risk should talk with a health care provider about the uncertainties, risks, and potential benefits of testing so they can decide if they want to be tested.
  • If you decide to be tested, you should get a PSA blood test with or without a rectal exam. How often you’re tested will depend on your PSA level.
Lung Cancer Testing
  • If you are age 55 or older, talk to a health care provider about your smoking history and whether you should get yearly low-dose CT scans to screen for early lung cancer. 
  • Screening may benefit if you are an active or former smoker (quit within the past 15 years), have no signs of lung cancer, and have a 30 pack-year smoking history. (A pack-year is one pack of cigarettes per day per year. One pack per day for 30 years or two packs per day for 15 years would both be 30 pack-years.) You should discuss the benefits, limitations, risks and potential costs of screening with a health care provider before testing is done. Not all health insurances cover the cost of this screening.
     

Other cancer screenings

Anyone over the age of 20 should have periodic health exams. A cancer-related check-up should include health counseling and, depending on your age and gender, exams for cancers of the thyroid, oral cavity, skin, lymph nodes, testes and ovaries, as well as some other diseases besides cancer.

To learn more about hereditary cancer risk and your options for screening, call the Methodist Estabrook Cancer Center Cancer Prevention and Hereditary Risk Program at 402-354-5276.
 

Ann Burch

About the Author:

Ann Burch, BSN, RN, OCN, is a nurse navigator helping patients understand their hereditary cancer risk at the Methodist Estabrook Cancer Center Cancer Prevention and Hereditary Risk Program.

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