Let’s face it, visiting the doctor’s office is not an activity that many people rank as one of their favorite things to do.
So when it comes to getting screened for cancer, most people feel quite uncomfortable as their doctors poke or prod them and perform other tests. This is an understandable anxiety, but as advocates of Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month have tried to convey, many of these cancer-related deaths could be prevented through routine screenings and early detection.
In the end, wouldn’t you say that undergoing these somewhat uncomfortable screening tests would be worth it if they can save your life from cancer? Okay, so let’s have a look at the basic cancer screening guidelines for most adults.
Screening Guidelines for Breast Cancer
Starting at the age of 40, it is suggested that most women start getting mammograms on an annual basis for as long as they remain in good overall health. Mammograms are usually the first thing that most people think when it comes to breast cancer screening tests, but there are also clinical breast exams (CBE) as well. These are recommended once every three years for women in their 20s and 30s, but women who are older than 40 should be getting these on a more routine basis (more like once a year).
In addition to these clinical tests, women should consider performing breast self-exams (BSE) during their 20s. These are highly recommended because they can help women become more familiar with the natural look and feel of their breasts, thus they will be more likely to notice any suspicious changes quickly.
Now, these prior recommendations are set in place for the average adult woman, but there are different screening guidelines for women who are at higher risk for developing breast cancer.
For instance, if you have a genetic predisposition, a family history of breast cancer, or other significant risk factors, then you should consider getting an MRI in addition to routine mammograms. Please note that the number of women in this high-risk category is quite small (less than 2 percent of the U.S. female population). If you are concerned about your own risk, then please discuss any worries that you might have with your doctor.
Cervical Cancer Screening Guidelines
Women should not get screened for cervical cancer before the age of 21. If you are between the ages of 21 and 29, then you can go in for a Pap test once every 3 years. Now, there is also a HPV test available for cervical cancer, but this is not advisable for this age group unless an individual has received an abnormal Pap test result.
Women who are between the ages of 30 and 65 should consider going in for a combo Pap test plus HPV test once every five years. According to the American Cancer Society, this is the preferred method for this age group, but they can also just get a Pap test once every three years.
If you are older than 65 and you have always gotten positive results during your routine screenings for cervical cancer, then you will no longer need to be tested. However, if you have a history of serious cervical pre-cancer, then testing should continue for at least two decades following the diagnosis, even if this means getting tested past the age of 65.
Screening Guidelines for Prostate Cancer
So, when it comes to prostate cancer, men need to discuss whether or not they should be tested with their doctor. In fact, prostate cancer clinical studies have yet to prove that the benefits of screenings actually outweigh the potential risks. The American Cancer Society has taken the stance that men should not get tested for prostate cancer before doing some personal research and obtaining a basic understanding of the risks and benefits that can be gained from these screenings.
If you are a 50 year old man, then please talk to your doctor about the pros and cons of screening for prostate cancer, so that you can make an informed decision for yourself. African American men, or anyone who has had a close family member who has been diagnosed with prostate cancer, should start considering their options before they turn 50. If you do choose to get tested, then you’ll want to get a PSA blood test with or without a rectal exam. Your PSA level should help doctors determine how often you should be screened for prostate cancer moving forward.
Protect Yourself from Cancer
In addition to getting screened for cancer, there are plenty of things that people can do to protect themselves from these diseases. First off, if you are a smoker, then you should consider quitting as this habit can significantly increase your chances of getting cancer and a slew of other medical conditions. Secondly, you should maintain a healthier lifestyle which includes eating better, maintaining a healthier weight, and getting regular exercise.
Finally, you should get to know your family’s medical history as it can have a major effect on your individual risk.