Cancer is not something you are helpless against. While it can be random,
there are often lifestyle changes you can make that can decrease your
risk. Additionally, there are tests you can regularly have a doctor perform
to screen for cancer so you can be sure and detect it early on.
As part of National Cancer Prevention Month, Homewatch CareGivers compiled a list
of screenings and tests the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
(CDC) says you can undergo to prevent many types of cancer or detect it
early on when it is easier to treat and overcome. Before going through
the list you should know that your own risk factors for any type of cancer
are unique. This means you should be aware of your family history. Additionally,
some types of behavior, like smoking or drinking alcohol (in some cases),
can increase the risk of cancer. Also, before getting any of these tests,
it’s best to talk to your doctor or nurse first to find out what
is the best course of action for you or your loved one.
There are three ways to check for breast cancer before symptoms begin to show up.
- According to the CDC, mammograms are the best method.
- During a mammogram, a camera takes an X-ray of the breast.
- If you are 50 to 74 years old, it’s recommended you have a mammogram
every two years.
- For those 40 to 49 years old, it’s best to talk to a doctor about
how often to get one.
Clinical Breast Exam
- This is performed by a doctor or nurse who uses their hands to check for
lumps or other changes to the breast.
- This is when you check your own breasts and armpits for lumps or any other changes.
There are two tests designed to prevent or find cervical cancer.
Pap Test (or Pap Smear)
- This test looks for precancers, which are cell changes on the cervix that
could become cancerous if untreated.
- The Pap test is recommended for women between the ages of 21 and 65.
- It can be done in a doctor's office or clinic.
- This test looks for the human papillomavirus that can cause these cell changes.
- An HPV test can be done at the same time as a Pap test. In that case, lab
technicians test the cells collected during the Pap smear for HPV.
Colorectal or colon cancer often stems from precancerous growths called
polyps in the colon or rectum. A screening test called a
colonoscopy finds these so they can be removed. It’s recommended people start
screening at regular intervals just after turning 50. Screening should
start younger if you or a close relative have a history of colon cancer,
you have inflammatory bowel disease, or you have a genetic condition that
There are several types of tests for lung cancer, but they do not necessarily
prevent people from dying.
- Chest X-rays or sputum cytology.
- Additionally, doctors can use low-dose helical CT scans.
However, some tests may find spots in the lungs without any conclusive
evidence they are cancerous. This might lead to removing a piece of lung
tissue for more tests. This could mean surgery for a person with a false
positive and these procedures come with risks and high monetary costs.
Because experts are split on whether early detection actually helps for
nonsmokers, they don’t recommend for or against lung cancer screening.
Those who do smoke should talk to a doctor about whether they should undergo screening.
According to the CDC, there is no simple and reliable way to screen for
ovarian cancer in women who do not show any signs or symptoms. The Pap
test does not check for ovarian cancer, only cervical cancer. Because
of this, it’s important to recognize any warning signs. Experts
recommend women pay attention to their bodies and know what is normal
for you. If you notice any changes, talk to a doctor. Doctors can then
do a rectovaginal pelvic exam, a transvaginal ultrasound, or a CA-125
blood test. These tests can sometimes help find or rule out ovarian cancer.
There are two tests commonly used to screen for prostate cancer.
Digital Rectal Exam (DRE)
- In this test, a doctor or nurse inserts a gloved, lubricated finger into
the rectum to feel the prostate. This lets the examiner estimate the size
of the prostate and feel for any lumps or other abnormalities.
Prostate-Specific Antigen Test (PSA)
- It is a blood test that measures the level of PSA in the blood. PSA is
a substance made by the prostate.
- The levels of PSA in the blood can be higher in men with prostate cancer.
The PSA level may also be elevated in other conditions that affect the prostate.
Men should talk to a doctor to determine how often they should undergo
prostate cancer screening.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) says there is not enough
evidence to recommend for or against routine skin cancer screening. However, the USPSTF says clinicians should be aware that fair-skinned
men and women aged 65 and older, and people with atypical moles or more
than 50 moles, have a greater risk for developing melanoma. Additionally,
people should stay alert for skin abnormalities and talk to a medical
professional if they have questions. Experts recommend if something looks
strange, ask a doctor about it.
For more information, visit the CDC’s cancer prevention page.