Cancer. It’s one of the many things everyone worries about. We’re a long way from a cure for various types of cancer, while other types have a great prognosis. But all types of cancer have one thing in common–it’s best to catch it early.
That’s why setting up a regular screening schedule is important–you are more likely to find malignancies in their early stages. There are a few types of cancers that women are more likely to have, and there are a few deadly types that everyone needs to be watching out for. According to the American Cancer Society, here are some guidelines on when you should be screened for some of the most common cancers.
If you have a family history of breast cancer, you may want to start screening as early as 40. For most women, the recommendation is to have a yearly screening from ages 45-54. Then, if your screenings haven’t shown anything, after age 55, you can move to every two years. You should keep up with the screenings as long as you’re in good health. The most common type of screening is a mammogram, which involves low-energy x-rays of the breast to see into the breast tissue. Sometimes an ultrasound is needed for dense breasts, which many women have when younger.
Everyone should be screened for colorectal cancer by age 45. Based on the results of the screening test, you will be provided recommendations on when to follow up with your next screening test until age 75. From 75-85, you and your doctor should discuss whether screenings should continue. After you’re 85, you don’t need to be screened any more. The most common screening is a colonoscopy, which involves a flexible tube inserted into the rectum with a tiny camera that shows any abnormalities. Other types of test include a stool DNA test that looks for changes in cells that may indicate cancer or a fecal blood test that only looks for blood in the stool.
Women should start regular screening for cervical cancer at 25. Between the ages of 25 and 65, women should get a Pap smear every 3 years and/or a specific HPV (human papillomavirus) test every 5 years (or both together every 5 years) unless there is an abnormal Pap. In that instance, testing depends on the abnormal results. After you turn 65, if all your tests have been clear, you don’t need to be tested any more. If you’ve had your cervix removed, such as with a total hysterectomy, you don’t need to be screened at all.
Lung cancer is one of the most deadly cancers, but most people can improve their risk by doing one simple thing–if you don’t smoke, don’t start; if you smoke, stop immediately. If you have symptoms (cough that doesn’t go away, coughing up blood, chest pain that gets worse with laughing or coughing, hoarseness, shortness of breath), you should be screened immediately. Otherwise, screening for lung cancer isn’t recommended for those who don’t have symptoms unless they meet all the following criteria: (these guidelines recently changed)
- Age 50-80
- A 20 pack-year smoking history
- Currently smoke or have quit smoking within the past 15 years
If you meet these criteria, you should be screened for lung cancer every year with a low-dose CT scan.
Skin cancer is one of the most common types of cancer–and is definitely one of those that have the best outcomes if discovered early. If you have a family history of skin cancer or if you have any other risk factors (a large number of moles, light hair, light eyes, and/or skin that burns, freckles, or reddens easily), make sure you are doing a skin self-exam and checking in with your dermatologist regularly. There are no formal guidelines for skin cancer screening at this time, but many dermatologists would recommend a skin check once a year or more frequently if any high risk moles are previously seen. Discuss your risk factors and set up a screening schedule that works for you with your dermatologist.
Early screening is the cornerstone of quick diagnosis, and timely treatment of any cancer can help ensure the best outcome possible. Work out a screening schedule that fits your situation with your healthcare provider–then stick to it!