Cancer Screening Could Save Your Life!

Lyn Lumia RN Jan 18, 2024

Why should you get screened for Cancer? Cancer screening tests are meant to find cancer early when it may be easier to treat and cure. Most people don’t need cancer screening tests until they are in their 40s but there are exceptions such as people with a family history of cancer or people with a pre-cancerous condition. These people should discuss cancer screening with their providers to see if they need screening sooner or more frequently.

Experts recommend several cancer screening tests. Cancer screening tests may include physical examinations, laboratory tests, and imaging.

Recommended Cancer Screening Tests

  • Physical Examination-A healthcare provider may examine your body for any changes such as unusual lumps. They will ask questions about your health and your family’s health history.
  • Breast Cancer Screening-Mammography screening has been shown to reduce the risk of death in women 40-74 years old by detecting cancer early. Screening should start at age 50 for women at moderate risk-earlier if breast cancer runs in the family.
  • Cervical Cancer Screening-HPV and Pap tests are cervical cancer screening tests. These tests help detect abnormal cells at an early, more treatable stage. Testing should begin at age 25 and end at age 65.
  • Colorectal Cancer Screening-There are several screening tests available to reduce the risk of dying from colorectal cancer. Colonoscopy, sigmoidoscopy, and stool tests can detect colorectal cancer early when more treatable. Experts recommend getting these tests started at age 45-75 years old.
  • Prostate Cancer Screening Tests-Men age 45 and older should have yearly digital rectal examinations to screen for prostate cancer. There is also a blood test to check for prostate cancer called prostate-specific antigen (PSA).
  • Lung Cancer Screening -A CT scan called low-dose helical computed tomography has been shown to decrease lung cancer risk among smokers and ex-smokers. Experts recommend screening from 50-80 years old for current or ex-smokers.
  • Laboratory Tests-The most common tests are CBC (Complete Blood Count), tumor markers, blood protein testing, and circulating tumor cell tests. These tests can be diagnostic for blood cancers like leukemia.
  • Genetic Testing-Your provider may recommend genetic testing if you have a family history of cancer. They will likely ask you health questions about your closest relatives who may have had cancer.

Cancer Screening Test Results

What does it mean to test positive in your screening for cancer? Your test result is not a cancer diagnosis but it may mean your provider will want to do further testing. Cancer starts small and may grow slowly so it is best to catch it early. There is a better prognosis if cancer is caught in the early stages. This is one of the reasons it is important to get tested.

Cancer is scary—no doubt about it. Being screened for cancer might make you feel a little anxious. Ask your healthcare provider to explain why you need cancer screening and which tests they want you to get. Do the research and ask any questions you may have. This may help to alleviate some of your anxiety regarding the cancer screening process.

You might be wondering when you will get the results of your cancer testing. Some tests are available in a few days and some can take a week or more. Ask your provider how long it will take to get your results from your testing. Call your provider if you don’t hear from them about your results in 2-3 weeks. Prepare your questions ahead of time so you don’t forget to ask an important question.

Benefits of Early Cancer Screening

  • Increased survival rate when treated early.
  • Better and more effective treatment options.
  • Less intensive cancer treatment means less recovery time.
  • Less cancer-related deaths.
  • It is easier to treat and cure cancer when found early.
  • The cost of cancer treatment is reduced.
  • Helps find cancer before it spreads to other parts of the body.

Who Needs to be Screened for Cancer?

Some screening tests may be recommended only for people who have certain cancers or are high-risk patients. A cancer risk factor is anything that can increase the risk of cancer. People who are known to have a higher risk of cancer than others would likely have a personal history of cancer, a family history of cancer, certain gene mutations, exposure to certain cancer-causing agents, or people of older age. Anyone with increased risk factors should be screened for cancer using appropriate screening measures. Ask your Provider if you feel you should be screened.

Does Cancer Screening help people live longer?

Finding some cancers at an early stage may help to decrease the chance of dying. Cancer that is diagnosed in the early stages is often easier to treat and cure. Mammograms for breast cancer, sigmoidoscopy, and fecal occult blood testing for colorectal cancer have been shown to help find cancer early and decrease the chance of dying. Here is a handy timeline to help guide you with cancer screening:

You can do many things to improve your health like eat a healthy diet, exercise, and get regular check-ups. Cancer screening tests are a very important preventative action that you can take to stay healthy by catching cancer early when it is treatable. So make a New Year resolution and get your cancer screening done! It could very well save your life.

References:

National Cancer Institute (2022, November 10). About Cancer Screening Tests. (Blog post) www.cancer.gov/aboutcancer/screening/screening-tests

Cleveland Clinic (2022, September 22). Cancer Screening. (Blog post) https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diagnostics/24118-cancer-screening

American Cancer Society (2024) Find Cancer Early (Blog post)

https://www.cancer.org/cancer/screening.html