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Preventive Cancer Screenings Can Save Your Life

Preventive Cancer Screenings Can Save Your Life

Preventive Cancer Screenings Can Save Your Life

Just because you feel fine and have no family history of cancer doesn’t mean you should skip screenings. Keeping up with cancer screenings can save your life. In some cases, these preventive cancer screenings can even detect precancerous cells that can be removed before they develop into cancer.

Take a few moments to learn about different types of cancer screenings and then follow up with your provider about getting yourself into a cancer screening routine, if applicable.

If You’re Over 40, You Need Cancer Screenings

You might think you don’t have to worry about cancer until you’re a senior citizen. But cancer can affect anyone at any age.

Men in their 40s and 50s should also talk to their doctors about prostate cancer screenings, while women should begin regular cervical cancer screenings at 25.

Why Cancer Screenings Make a Difference

The goal of preventive cancer screenings is to find cancer in its earliest stages, before you have symptoms. If you have symptoms that could be cancer, and your doctor recommends a screening, that screening is known as a diagnostic cancer screening. Many types of cancer are more easily treatable when they are detected at an early stage.

Cervical cancer screenings and colon cancer screenings can detect precancerous lesions (on the cervix) or polyps (in the colon). If these are promptly removed, which usually happens automatically during a colonoscopy, the risk of developing cancer from them is eliminated. However, you may need more frequent screenings since having those cells to begin with puts you at a higher risk.

Preventive cancer screenings are required to be covered by your insurance at no cost to you, thanks to the Affordable Care Act. There may be additional costs if your doctor recommends additional testing based on your results.

All About Mammograms

One in eight women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with breast cancer. Screening with mammograms — a special type of X-ray of your breasts — can detect tumors when they are still very small, up to two years before you can feel them.

The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends that women start annual mammograms at age 40 and definitely by age 45. Mammograms should continue so long as the woman remains in good health and is expected to live 10 years or longer.

If you have risk factors for breast cancer, such as a family history of breast cancer at an early age, you should ask your primary care provider whether you should start regular screenings in your 30s. Some women at high risk of breast cancer may also need breast MRIs.

Pap Test or HPV Test? Both Can Detect Cervical Cancer

In the past, cervical cancer screening was suggested for women ages 21 and older. But guidelines have since shifted to cervical cancer screening beginning at age 25, as cervical cancer in younger women is extremely rare.

The ACS recommends that women get HPV tests every five years between the ages of 25 to 65. Women can also choose to get a Pap test every three years, or a co-Pap and HPV test every five years. Even if you had the HPV vaccine as a child, you still need cervical cancer screenings.

What You Need to Know About Colonoscopies

Although other types of colon cancer detection tests exist, the colonoscopy is the gold standard. Everyone should have their first one at age 45, although some people at high risk for colorectal cancer should start screening at age 40 or even in their 30s.

If you are at average risk and your colonoscopy results are normal, you can go 10 years between screenings. If you are at high risk or your results find precancerous polyps, you may need more frequent colonoscopies. Screenings should stop by age 85.

If You Smoke, You Need a Lung CT Scan

Lung cancer screenings involve quick imaging with a low-dose CT scanner. Annual screenings are recommended for people ages 50 to 80 who meet the following requirements:

  • Currently smoke or quit smoking within 15 years
  • Have a 20-pack year smoking history

A “pack year” is a way to measure how many cigarettes a person smokes each year. So, if you average smoking a pack a day for 20 years, or two packs a day for 10 years, prior to age 50, you should probably get screened. Your primary care provider can advise you as to whether you need screening. They can also help you quit smoking, which is by far the leading cause of lung cancer.

When to Consider Screening for Prostate Cancer

There are no standard guidelines for screening for prostate cancer.

Men at high risk may want to start regular prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood tests at age 45. Other men may want to start at age 50 or choose to wait. Either way, it’s important to speak with your provider about prostate cancer if it runs in your family or you are concerned about other prostate-related health concerns that may interfere with a screening or potential prostate cancer treatment.

Need a preventive cancer screening? Find a provider today