With advancements in medicine, more screening opportunities are available to catch diseases before they begin. This can, however, lead to confusion and anxiety over the need for testing. By reviewing and understanding the recommended guidelines, patients might be able to better understand why they are being encouraged to get certain tests.
Many screenings are used to detect early signs of cancer.
According to the American Cancer Society, there were 774,370 newly diagnosed cases of cancer in 2011. Of those diagnosed, nearly 371,000 were for diseases for which screening is recommended — breast, colon, and gynecologic cancer.
For breast-cancer screening, women beginning at age 40 need yearly mammograms, along with a yearly clinical breast exam and monthly breast self-exams. Although there has been recent controversy regarding the benefit of self-exams, the American Cancer Society sees value in educating women about being proactive in breast health.
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The three most recognized gynecologic cancers are cervical, uterine and ovarian. Cervical-cancer screening is most commonly accomplished through Pap testing, which should begin three years after initiation of vaginal intercourse, or by age 21. After age 30, co-testing with HPV screening is recommended for assessing the risk of cervical cancer.
Uterine-cancer screening consists of patient education and reporting of abnormal bleeding at or after menopause. Although screening recommendations exist for cervical and uterine cancer, there are no effective screening tools for detecting and preventing ovarian cancer.
The Society of Gynecologic Oncologists says warning signs include abdominal bloating or fullness, pelvic pressure or pain, difficulty eating with an early feeling of fullness, and urinary symptoms including urgency that might require further testing to rule out ovarian cancer. There were 2,420 new cases of colon cancer diagnosed in Kentucky in 2011.
Beginning at age 50, men and women should undergo screening colonoscopies or sigmoidoscopies. At the time of these procedures, both cancer and precancerous polyps can be diagnosed and/or removed.
Screening tools are not designed to prevent or diagnose a cancer; rather, they help to detect disease early, so treatment and favorable outcomes are possible.
Collaborating with your practitioner to develop an individualized screening schedule can allow the patient to be proactive in his or her health care.
Patients who adhere to recommended screening guidelines can potentially avoid negative consequences of advanced disease and prolong years of healthy living.