Early Detection is Your Best Weapon Against Cancer
The next two most important weapons you have against cancer are prevention and early detection. Since not all cancers are preventable, you need to understand that early detection is your very best weapon against cancer.
The earlier a cancer is detected, the higher your chances of survival. Read that last sentence again and repeat it out loud – it’s that important! The following are simple rules of thumb for early detections of the different types of cancer.
Early Detection For Women
Breast Cancer. All women should have a mammogram once a year starting at the age of 40 (and earlier if you have a family history of breast cancer). All women should have a clinical breast exam at least once every three years at their regular doctor’s visits. Women 40 and older should have a clinical breast exam every year. All women should perform a breast self-exam once per month starting at age 20. Report any changes in your breasts to your doctor immediately. Talk with your doctor if you have elevated risk factors for breast cancer such as a family history of breast cancer, past breast cancer, or a genetic predisposition to cancer.
Cervical Cancer. All women should have a regular Pap test every year, or every 2 years for the newer liquid-based Pap test. Women who are 30 or older, and have had 3 normal annual Pap tests in a row can get tested every 2 to 3 years instead of annually.
Your doctor may recommend more frequent tests if you have HIV or a weak immune system. Ask your doctor about the HPV DNA test. Older women over 70 may be able to stop having annual Pap tests. Hysterectomy patients usually don’t have to take the tests, unless the reason for the hysterectomy was treatment for cervical cancer. Discuss these options with your doctor.
Endometrium Cancer. Report any vaginal spotting or bleeding to your doctor if you are at the stage of menopause. After age 35, or if you have a risk of hereditary nonpolyposis colon cancer (HNPCC), you should consider an annual endometrial biopsy. Visit with your doctor about these issues.
Early Detection for Men
Prostate Cancer. All men should have the PSA test and a digital rectal exam annually starting at 50 years old. Men at high risk for prostate cancer should begin annual testing at age 45. African-American men, and men with a close blood relative who had prostate cancer at a young age are at high risk for prostate cancer. Talk with your doctor about prostate cancer screenings.
Early Detection For Both Men and Women
Colon and Rectum Cancer. Both men and women who are 50 or older should do one of the following early detection screenings:
Annual fecal occult blood test (FOBT), or
Flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5 years, or a combination of
FOBT every year and flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5 years (this is recommended), or
Double contrast barium enema every 5 years, or
Colonoscopy every 10 years.
If you have a history of colon cancer, or polyps or inflammatory bowel disease, or a family history any of these, then you are at an elevated risk of developing colon cancer. If this is the case, you may need to start regular screenings and exams at an early age, and you may have to do them more often.
Some people are at a higher risk for developing certain kinds of cancer. High risk people may need have tests done more often and starting at an earlier age. Talk with your doctor about cancer and risk factors for cancer.
Remember that early detection is the best weapon against cancer. The earlier cancer is detected, the higher your survival rate.