Cancer Prevention – Essential Screenings for Women
With all of life’s distractions, it can be easy to forget about some important milestones in keeping your body happy and healthy, but cancer screenings are something you don’t want to skip. Early prevention screening tests are becoming more important than ever. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that between 2010 and 2020, there will be a 21 percent increase in new cancer cases diagnosed in women. Cancer screenings can help find cancer at an early stage before symptoms appear. To make your health journey easier, we spoke with Melanie Collins, MD with Renaissance Women’s Group to provide you with some essential information about cancer screenings.
Dr. Collins says cancer is something we all want to avoid, and certain cancers can either be prevented or caught in early and treatable stages by getting regular checkups. Along with these guidelines, she encourages cancer prevention by eating a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight and regular exercise. Smoking and vaping, of course, are habits to either never start or try to quit as soon as possible to avoid cancers like lung, bladder, larynx, oral, esophagus, intestinal, liver, kidney, and pancreas.
According to the CDC, cervical cancer starts in cells that line the cervix and is most common in women over 30 who have a long-lasting infection with certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV). There are two important screenings that a woman can do that help doctors spot changing cells in the cervix.
- The Pap test. Usually, a Pap test is recommended starting at age 21. If results are normal, the test is taken every three years. A Pap test looks for precancers, which are cell changes on the cervix that could become cervical cancer if not treated. During the Pap test, the doctor will use an instrument, called a speculum, to widen your vagina, this helps the doctor examine the vagina and the cervix, and collect cells from the cervix. The cells are then sent for testing at a laboratory.
- Human papillomavirus (HPV) test. The HPV test looks for the virus that can cause changes in the cells in the cervix. The test can be done along with the Pap test, using the same collected cells. The lab checks to see if you’re infected with HPV, a virus that causes most cases of cervical cancer.
Breast cancer is when cells in the breast grow out of control and can begin in different parts of the breast. Breast cancer screenings help find cancer cells early when it is easier to treat.
- Mammogram. A mammogram is the main test doctors use to check for breast cancer. A mammogram uses X-rays to take photos inside of your breasts so doctors can examine the breast from different points of view. Each breast is put on a platform, then a plastic paddle will press on your breast to spread it out. This is to make sure the X-ray gets all your tissue in the picture. The United States Preventive Services Task ForceExternal (USPSTF) recommends that women from ages 50 to 74 receive mammograms every two years, and that women who are 40 to 49 years old talk to their doctor about when to start getting a mammogram.
- Breast Exams. A clinical breast exam is when a doctor or nurse uses their hands to feel for lumps or abnormalities in the breast. The test is usually conducted at your annual exam in the office. A Breast Self-Exam is when the woman herself looks and feels each breast for possible lumps or changes to the breast. The CDC recommends women become familiar with how their breasts look and feel, then report any changes that are noticed to a doctor.
Colon cancer is a type of cancer that begins in the large intestine. Colon cancer typically affects older adults and usually begins as small, noncancerous cells called polyps. According to the CDC, colorectal cancer is the second leading cancer killer in the United States. Colon screening tests can find precancerous polyps so that they can be removed before turning into cancer.
- Colonoscopy. Your doctor will check your entire colon and rectum with a flexible tube that has a camera on the end. A day before your colonoscopy, you’ll only be allowed to drink liquids, and laxatives to clean out your colon. During the procedure, the doctor can find and remove most polyps, then send them to a lab to be tested. The USPSTF recommends adults age 50 to 75 be screened for colorectal cancer, adults 76 to 85 ask their doctor if they should be screened every 10 years, and to speak to your doctor about early screenings if there is a history of colon cancer in the family.
Another key to getting the right preventive screenings is to speak with your Women’s Health Texas ObGyn. Our doctors can speak with you about your genetic risks and family history during the annual well-woman examination to provide you with the specific care you need. You can request an appointment to schedule your exam today.
“Cancer Screening Tests.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, July 9, 2019. https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/dcpc/prevention/screening.htm.