What You Need to Know About Cancer Screening
Follow this guide to cancer screenings to detect problems early
While progress in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer continues, the old adage remains true: Early detection is the best protection.
“The most important thing in terms of cancer diagnosis is the stage,” says Dr. Elizabeth Blanchard, Chief of Medical Oncology at Southcoast Health. “And screening is designed to catch cancer at the earliest stage or even at a precancerous stage. The earlier we can catch a cancer, the higher the chances are that we can cure the cancer.”
Sometimes it is hard to remember to schedule screenings, and some of the tests are a little uncomfortable. But those difficulties are minor in comparison to a cancer diagnosis.
Celebrating 10 years of service in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, the Southcoast Cancer Center has resources for cancer screenings as well as treatment. This guide can help you understand common screening recommendations, but be sure to talk with your primary care provider about which screenings make sense for you and how often you should have them.
There is no accepted screening schedule for the general population, but people at higher risk can get a low-dose CT scan to check for any lesions. Learn if you are considered high risk here.
Depending upon their risk factors, women should begin getting screening mammograms at age 40 or 45 and have them once a year. (You might want to schedule them around your birthday so it’s easy to remember.) Southcoast Imaging Services offers digital and 3-D mammogram (tomosynthesis) to better detect abnormalities. The Southcoast Breast Center offers comprehensive services for both malignancy and benign breast disease. Learn more here.
A Pap smear — a swab of the cervix during a gynecological exam — can detect any changes in the cells of the cervix. “The vast majority of cervical cancer is caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV),” says Dr. Blanchard. Physicians recommend that boys and girls receive the HPV vaccination starting around age 12. Learn more here.
This tends to be a slow-growing cancer, and for a few years the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test was not ordered as frequently because of concerns that the treatment regimens were too drastic. “When doctors weren’t doing the PSAs though, we saw a spike in advanced disease,” Dr. Blanchard reports, “so now we order the test and then determine how aggressively to treat any cancer that is found or if it’s better to watch and wait.” Learn more about risk factors for prostate cancer here.
There are a number of tests that can detect colorectal cancer, but “colonoscopy remains the gold standard,” Dr. Blanchard says. The advantage of colonoscopy is that any precancerous polyps that are detected can be removed during the exam. Learn more about risk factors, symptoms and screenings here.
The Southcoast Health Cancer Center offers screenings and exceptional cancer care.