Smart Cancer Screenings

Knowledge is power when it comes to prevention and early detection

Screenings are the best defense against certain cancers. But guidelines change or can be confusing. Here’s what you need to know about catching colorectal, breast and prostate cancer early, in the most curable stage, and in the case of colorectal cancer, even preventing it.

Colorectal Cancer

“Colorectal cancer is unique in that it is preventable in many cases by removing precancerous lesions (or polyps) in the colon or rectum at the time of colonoscopy,” says Victor Pricolo, MD, Chief of General & Colorectal Surgery at Southcoast. “Prevention is the No. 1 goal of colorectal cancer screening. But it can also help us catch cancer early.”

Colonoscopy guidelines

Average risk: Start at age 50
Follow-up: Every 10 years, if no additional risk is found at the initial screening and no symptoms appear within the following 10 years.
High-risk screening: Those with a first-degree relative or more than one relative with colorectal cancer should begin screening by age 40, or 10 years before the age of the relative’s diagnosis, if that comes first. Unique screening guidelines may be advised for patients who have genetic mutations leading to hereditary polyps syndromes, are found to have polyps, have polyps that test positive for cancer, or have other health conditions that raise risk, such as inflammatory bowel disease.

Breast Cancer

While screening guidelines for breast cancer continue to change based on new research, mammography is still considered the best way to catch cancer in its early stages, says Maureen Chung, MD, PhD, Medical Director of the Southcoast Breast Program.

Mammography guidelines

Average risk: Start at age 45
Follow-up: Every year until age 54, then every two years indefinitely for those in good health.
High-risk screening: All women should discuss risk with their doctor, says Dr. Chung. Those with a family history of breast cancer, a diagnosis of atypical cells, previous breast cancer and other risk factors will have a personalized screening plan.

Prostate Cancer

Many doctors consider screening optional for those with average risk, says Dennis LaRock, MD, Co-Chief of Urology and Chief of Robotic Surgery at Southcoast. “That’s because not every case of prostate cancer demands intervention, and many men who are diagnosed can go into what is called an active surveillance program,” he says. “It’s really a conversation that starts with your primary care provider, and if you decide to be screened, you can further discuss the implications of the results with a specialist.” Screening for prostate cancer includes a blood test called a prostate specific antigen (PSA) test and a rectal exam.

PSA/rectal exam guidelines

Average risk: Start at age 55, if desired

Follow-up: Every year until age 70

High-risk screening: African-American men and men who have a first-degree relative on the father’s side with prostate cancer should begin screening earlier. Many doctors will perform a baseline screening for high-risk men starting in their 40s and start regular screenings when a high-risk patient turns 50, says Dr. LaRock.

Learn more about cancer screenings at the Southcoast Centers for Cancer Care.