Column: Don’t put off essential cancer screenings

Thanks to earlier detection, more Americans are surviving cancer. That’s why you shouldn’t put off having the screening tests you need.

While scheduling a mammogram or colonoscopy may not be top of mind for you right now, screening tests like these can spot cancer before it causes any symptoms. Usually, the sooner cancer is found, the better the chance it can be treated before it has spread. This often means that treatment will be more successful.

Cancer screening may include a physical examination by a health care provider, an X-ray, or a laboratory test. In many cases, a mix of methods — such as clinical breast exam and mammography — is recommended.

Common Cancer Screenings

Proactive screening increases the chances of finding certain cancers early, when they are most likely to be curable. Below are a list of common cancer screenings and recommendations, however, each person should speak with their provider about their individual risks and which screening is appropriate:

• Breast Cancer Screening – An initial baseline mammogram is recommended at age 40. Shared decision making based on individual risk evaluation should direct further screening scheduling and should be based off a conversation with your primary care physician.

• Cervical Cancer Screening – Pap tests are recommended every three years beginning at age 21 until age 29. Beginning at age 30, a pap test with HPV test is recommended every five years until age 65. It is recommended against screening for cervical cancer in women who have had a hysterectomy with removal of the cervix and do not have a history of a high-grade precancerous lesion or cervical cancer. Screening is also not recommended in women 21 years or younger as well as 65 and older, unless otherwise at significant risk.

• Colorectal Cancer Screening – Colonoscopy is the golden standard of colorectal cancer screenings. For normal risk individuals, the American College of Gastroenterology recommends a colonoscopy every 10 years beginning at age 50, and age 45 for African Americans.

• Prostate Cancer Screening – Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood tests are the best way to screen men for prostate cancer and are recommended based on risk. A man is considered a higher risk for prostate cancer if you are black, have family members who were diagnosed with prostate cancer before the age of 55, or are known to have the BRCA1 or BRCA2 DNA strand in your family. With these heightened risks, you should talk to your doctor about prostate cancer screening options by the age of 45.

Start the Conversation

Your provider can tell you which cancer screenings you should have and how often based on your medical history, wellness, family health history and other risk factors.

Early detection of cancer can save many lives. Don’t delay, start the conversation today.

Abdalla M. Sholi, MD, is the regional medical director for oncology for the UPMC Hillman Cancer Centers in Williamsport and Wellsboro, as well as the UPMC Cole Patterson Cancer Center in Coudersport.


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