Cancer Screenings: What Everyone Needs to Know (Video)

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January 24, 2017

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This post is available in: Spanish

A new report on cervical cancer death rates has put the importance of screenings at the forefront of healthcare once again.

Researchers say that African-American women in the United States are dying from cervical cancer at a rate 77 percent higher than previously reported, and white women are dying at a rate 47 percent higher, according to the study published in the journal Cancer on Monday.

Led by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health researchers, the study effectively re-calculates how mortality rates have been determined. The researchers excluded women from the study who’ve had their cervixes removed through hysterectomies, and therefore have no chance of developing cervical cancer.

Screenings Save Lives

This report is only the latest one that reaffirms what every person should understand: Cancer screenings save lives. Screenings are exams that catches cancer early before a person has any symptoms.

And more lives could be saved if more people follow widely accepted guidelines from the American Cancer Society for regular screenings for a range of cancers.

The starting age for many screenings is 40 to 50, depending on gender and the type of cancer. However, if a person has a family history of cancer (especially a parent or sibling), or is aware of genetic markers indicating a predisposition for cancer, screenings at younger ages may be necessary.

The most important thing to do right away is to let your doctor know of any family history related to cancer or other chronic diseases.

Overall, screenings for various types of cancer are the best way to “ensure that, if something is going on, we catch it early and it is treatable,” said Jennifer Young, M.D., a primary care physician with Baptist Health Primary Care. “One of the main tools for preventive care that we have are cancer screenings.”

(Watch the video below for more information on cancer screenings from Dr. Young.)

Video by George Carvalho and Alcyene C. de Almeida Rodrigues

Here are some general guidelines from the American Cancer Society (make sure to check with your doctor regarding these and other screenings):

Breast cancer
  • Women ages 40 to 44 should have the choice to start annual breast cancer screening with mammograms (x-rays of the breast).
  • Women age 45 to 54 should get mammograms every year.
  • Women 55 and older should switch to mammograms every 2 years, or can continue yearly screening.
  • Screening should continue as long as a woman is in good health and is expected to live 10 more years or longer.
Cervical cancer

Cervical cancer testing should start at age 21. Women under age 21 should not be tested.

  • Women between the ages of 21 and 29 should have a Pap test done every 3 years. HPV testing should not be used in this age group unless it’s needed after an abnormal Pap test result.
  • Women between the ages of 30 and 65 should have a Pap test plus an HPV test (called “co-testing”) done every 5 years. This is the preferred approach, but it’s OK to have a Pap test alone every 3 years.
  • Women over age 65 who have had regular cervical cancer testing in the past 10 years with normal results should not be tested for cervical cancer. Once testing is stopped, it should not be started again. Women with a history of a serious cervical pre-cancer should continue to be tested for at least 20 years after that diagnosis, even if testing goes past age 65.
Colon and rectal cancer and polyps

Starting at age 50, both men and women should follow these tests that find polyps and cancer:

  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5 years*, or
  • Colonoscopy every 10 years, or
  • Double-contrast barium enema every 5 years*, or
  • CT colonography (virtual colonoscopy) every 5 years*
Prostate cancer

Starting at age 50, men should talk to a health care provider about the pros and cons of testing so they can decide if testing is the right choice for them.

If you are African American or have a father or brother who had prostate cancer before age 65, you should have this talk with a health care provider starting at age 45.

Talk to Your Doctor

“When you go to your doctor, make sure you bring up the topic of cancer prevention because you just might catch something early and treat it,” says Dr. Young.