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. The second breast cancer test is a 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. Finally, anyone can perform a breast self-exam. 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. The Pap test (or Pap smear) 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. The HPV 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 causes polyps.
There are several types of tests for lung cancer, but they do not necessarily prevent people from dying. The tests include 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. The first is a 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 to estimate the size of the prostate and feel for any lumps or other abnormalities. The second test is the 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.