Cancer Screenings

One very important component of preventive health care is having cancer screenings done on a regular basis, especially if you have certain risk factors that may make you more susceptible to developing cancer.

There are many different types of cancer, and various types of cancer can develop at any time no matter your age, sex, race or health status.

Therefore, it is important to get cancer screenings done when they are recommended to you by your doctor in order to prevent developing cancer or to start treatment when it is most effective during the earliest stages after detection.

Even though there are over 100 different types of cancer, there are a few types of cancer that are more common than other types are.

Certain types of cancer are easier to prevent or detect and treat through the use of cancer screenings. The following cancer screenings are frequently recommended as part of a preventive health care plan:

  • Breast cancer screening.
  • Cervical cancer screening.
  • Colorectal cancer screening.
  • Lung cancer screening.

If you are interested in learning more about cancer screenings and how they can help you to stay healthy and avoid the development of certain cancers, continue reading the sections below.

Breast Cancer Screening (Mammogram)

A mammogram (or mammography) is an X-ray photograph of the breast. A mammogram uses a very low level of X-rays to produce a picture of the breast tissue that can then be analyzed by a doctor for any abnormalities such as lumps that may indicate breast cancer.

The test is performed by using a special X-ray machine where your breast is compressed between an X-ray plate and a plastic plate. The mammogram typically takes 20 minutes to complete.

It is recommended that women ages 50 to 74 should have a mammogram done every two years. However, you may need to start having mammograms done earlier, especially if you have certain risk factors for developing breast cancer, such as family history of breast cancer.

Cervical Cancer Screening (Pap Smear or Pap Test)

Cervical cancer is cancer of the cervix, which is the lowest and most narrow part of a woman’s uterus that connects the uterus to the vagina. A cervical cancer screening is commonly called a “Pap smear” and is performed in a medical clinic by a trained medical professional such as a doctor or nurse.

The test usually takes between two to five minutes and includes lying on an exam table so that a special brush can be inserted into your vagina to collect cells from your cervix. Those cells will then be taken to a lab so that they can be analyzed for abnormalities under a microscope.

Generally, women should begin having routine Pap smears done every three years starting at the age of 21 and ending at the age of 65 if recent results have been normal.

However, if you are between the ages of 30 and 65, you can get screened every five years if you receive both a Pap test and a human papillomavirus (HPV) test during that time. Also, some women may need to be tested more frequently than every three or five years if abnormal results are found.

It is important to speak with your doctor about when you need to have a Pap smear done. Getting a Pap smear regularly is very important because the Pap smear allows doctors to detect abnormal cervical cells and treat them before they develop into cervical cancer.

Colorectal Cancer Screening

Colorectal cancer is cancer that starts in the colon or rectum of the body. The cancer may be referred to as just colon or rectum cancer, depending on where the cancer initially starts, although colorectal cancer is the term used in most cases.

Generally, most colorectal cancers start when abnormal growth of cells grow on the inner lining of the colon or rectum to form “polyps.” Some polyps change into cancer, although not all polyps become cancerous.

There are a few different types of screenings used to diagnose colorectal cancer and determining which test will work best for you is up to the discretion of both you and your primary care physician. Two of the most common tests used to screen for colorectal cancer include:

  • A stool-based test: A test where a sample of fecal matter (also called a stool sample) is collected and then given to your doctor so that is can be tested at a laboratory for signs of cancer.
  • Colonoscopy: A test where a long and flexible tube with a tiny video camera is inserted so that polyps or other types of abnormal tissue can be viewed and potentially removed with the scope. This screening can only be performed while you are under anesthesia, and only after you have cleaned out your bowels by using laxatives and avoiding certain foods beforehand.

It is generally recommended that anyone older than 50 years of age has a colorectal cancer screening performed approximately every 10 years. However, if you have a family history of colon cancer or other colon cancer risk factors, your doctor may recommend that you have a colonoscopy at an earlier age and more frequently than 10 years apart.

Lung Cancer Screening

Being screened for lung cancer is recommended if you have a history of smoking cigarettes within the past 15 years or currently smoke cigarettes in addition to being between the ages of 55 and 80 years of age.

A low-dose computed tomography (LDCT or low-dose CT scan) is used to detect any abnormalities in your lungs that may indicate cancerous growth. The test involves an X-ray machine scanning the body to make detailed photographs of the lungs.

Using the LDCT to diagnose lung cancer is only recommended for certain people due to some of the risks involved, so it is important to speak with your primary care physician about whether or not getting screened is right for you.

However, being properly screened for lung cancer may allow for early detection of lung cancer so that treatment can begin early and therefore be much more effective. If you currently smoke, you can sign up for cessation programs to help you quit, even before you think you need a lung cancer screening.

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