Preventative steps to fight cancer: How routine screenings can lead to early detection, better outcomes
By Meghann Finn Sepulveda
Education is considered one of the best ways to stay in control of your health. Cancer screenings can vary, but if you follow these recommendations for detecting breast, cervical and skin cancer, you’ll be armed with a powerful defense: knowledge.
Mammograms every year
Starting at age 40, women should have annual mammograms, or sooner, if family history of breast cancer is present in a first degree relative, such as a mother or sister.
“When a woman is considered at significantly high risk for breast cancer, we typically suggest an annual mammogram in combination with a breast MRI to complement our detection methods,” said Vilert Loving, M.D., director of Breast Imaging at Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center in Gilbert.
Breast imaging specialists say regular screenings are the most effective strategy in identifying early breast cancer in high risk women, but other options do exist.
“Additional screenings, genetic testing and preventative medications are available, and should be discussed with a physician or breast health specialist,” Loving said. “Surgical options such as preventative mastectomies can reduce breast cancer risk by 90 percent.”
Pap test and HPV vaccination
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children, teenagers and adults between the ages of 9-26 receive the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine to prevent infection with viruses associated with cervical cancer.
“It takes about ten years for a patient to develop cervical cancer after infection with HPV, which allows for pre-cancerous lesions to be discovered and treated early,” said Matthew Schlumbrecht, M.D., gynecologic oncologist and surgeon at Banner MD Anderson.
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists say women ages 21-30 should have a pap test, which detects changes in the cells of a cervix, once every three years. At 30, women need a pap and HPV test. If results are normal, this can be repeated every five years until age 65. An annual pelvic exam during a well-woman visit is also recommended.
Protect your skin
More than 3.5 million people are diagnosed with skin cancer each year in the U.S., according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, and one in five Americans will develop the disease. Skin cancer is mainly caused by excessive ultraviolet ray exposure from the sun.
“People should apply sunscreen with SPF 15 or 30 every day,” said Randall Craft, M.D., plastic and reconstruction surgeon at Banner MD Anderson.
Melanoma is the most common form of skin cancer and is usually found on the face, neck and arms, and on the back and chest in men, and legs in women. A biopsy can determine the type of skin cancer a person has and the best method of treatment.
“The most important thing people can do is get a periodic skin exam to identify changes,” Craft said. “While research shows there isn’t a high correlation between family history and melanoma, there is a greater incidence of skin cancer in people who burn easily or have a history of blistering sunburns, blue eyes, red hair, or freckling.”
Benign or non-cancerous skin tumors like moles are common and often harmless, but are sometimes removed to be safe.