HealthWise By Susan Melvin
October 22nd, 2013 – Cancer. It is the one word that no one likes to hear. It strikes fear and uncertainty into people all over the world. According to the American Cancer Society, half of all men and one-third of all women in the United States will develop cancer during their lifetimes.
However, you have the power to decrease your chance of hearing those words through taking proactive and preventative actions. Cancer screenings have become a vital part of the growing defense in the battle against cancer. A healthy lifestyle may reduce your risk of developing cancer and regular screening examinations by a health care professional can result in early detection when it is most treatable.
Here are some important screenings you should ask your doctor about to see if it’s right for you:
For Men:PSA Test (Prostate Cancer)
Prostate-specific antigen, or PSA, is a protein produced by cells of the prostate gland. The test measures the level of PSA in a man’s blood – higher levels could indicate prostate cancer. However, it can be elevated in normal conditions so its use in under review. The role of PSA in prostate cancer screening is controversial. The best recommendation is to discuss with your physician so they can review your risk and appropriateness of screening.
For Women:Mammogram (Breast Cancer)
A mammogram is a low-dose x-ray exam of the breast. Women over the age of 40 should discuss with their physicians as to when they should start screening. Currently a mammogram is recommended every 2 years for women between the ages of 50-74, who are not at increased risk by virtue of a known genetic mutation or history of chest radiation. Increasing age is the most important risk factor for most women. Women over the age of 74 should discuss screening with their physicians. Family history of breast and ovarian cancer should be disclosed to your personal physician to review if you are a candidate for a genetic evaluation and more frequent screenings.
Pap Test (Cervical Cancer)
The Pap test, also called a Pap smear, checks for microscopic changes in the cells of your cervix – it can determine infections, abnormal cervical cells or cervical cancer. It is recommended to start at age 21 and is recommended every 3 years if preceding exams are normal. If a woman has been screened routinely and has had normal results the recommendation is to stop the screening at age 65.
For Everyone:Colonoscopy (Colon Cancer)
Colon cancer is one of the most preventable cancers if screening is done regularly. When it comes to our colon we are all a little shy but this is a very important test! This procedure allows your doctor to look at the inner lining of your large intestine, using a thin, flexible tube with a camera. The recommendation is for you to get a colonoscopy starting at the age of 50 and every 10 years if it is normal. If screenings have been normal the recommendation is that you stop at the age of 76. If you have a family history of colon cancer talk with your physician; your screening may need to start earlier and may need it to occur more frequently.
Skin Screenings (Melanoma/Basal Cell Cancer)
A skin cancer screening is a visual inspection of your skin by your primary care doctor or dermatologist. No blood work is conducted at this screening. Skin screenings are part of your regular exams. Depending on your skin type and sun exposure you may need to have exams more frequently. The best prevention for skin cancer is sun protection and use of sunscreen.
Occult Blood Test (Gastrointestinal Cancer)
The fecal occult blood test — or FOBT — is a lab test used to check stool samples for hidden (occult) blood. Occult blood may indicate colon cancer or polyps in the colon or rectum. The recommendation is that this test be done annually starting at 50.
Be proactive about your health. The best prevention is up to us and the choices we make every day. Educate yourself and work with your healthcare provider on an appropriate screening schedule for you. Many people are living a full life in spite of the cancer experience. There is always hope!
(Susan Melvin, D.O., is chief medical officer at Long Beach Memorial.)