No one wants to consider that they may have cancer. While the idea can be frightening, regular cancer screenings are important for your overall health. The earlier cancer is detected, the better the outlook and, often, the less aggressive the treatment. It is normal to feel ambivalent about these screenings, but understanding their importance and what to expect can make the process easier.
Why Screenings Are Important
The purpose of a cancer screening is to detect cancer before any symptoms develop. This early diagnosis allows for more treatment options and better outcomes. Unfortunately, many cancers are not detected until they have spread. Early detection, which means before you experience symptoms, is important for a healthy future.
Types of Cancer Screenings
There are different screening tests for different types of cancer. For example, prostate cancer testing involves the prostate-specific antigen, or PSA, blood test and is recommended for men age 50 and older who have an average risk of the disease, at age 45 for men with an elevated risk of the disease, and age 40 for men who have a first-degree relative who experienced prostate cancer at a young age.
Skin cancer screenings are often recommended as early as your 20s and 30s. A history of sunburns, lighter complexion, tanning bed use, or suspicious or numerous moles all indicate you should be screened earlier than you may have expected.
Screening tests for cancers include visual examination, imaging, and laboratory and genetic tests. If you are unsure about screenings, your general practitioner can make recommendations based on your personal and family history.
Testing is low-risk, although false positive results may cause unnecessary stress until additional testing is completed. Fortunately, false positive results are rare, and once your healthcare provider reviews your test results you can feel confident that you are healthy.
The types of cancer screening recommended differ by age and medical history. For example, those with a low risk of colon and breast cancer can wait until they are 45 to begin regular screenings, while those with a higher-than-average risk may begin screenings at 40.
Smokers may want to speak with their physician about low-dose CT scans once they reach the age of 50. Skin cancer screenings should continue as recommended by your healthcare provider.
While there are some screenings you can perform on your own, such as visibly keeping an eye on moles for changes and monthly self-breast exams, they are not replacements for cancer screenings from your healthcare provider.
Written by: Meghan Belnap / Blogger, Researcher, and Freelance Writer