Cancer Screen Week
Ashley Jowett
/ Categories: WELLNESS, 2021

Cancer Screen Week

During the week of December 6 – 10, my colleagues and I are joining the American Cancer Society and others in celebrating Cancer Screen Week. It’s an annual observation that aims to increase awareness of beneficial cancer screenings. A screening is a test or exam that is used to find cancer in people who don’t have symptoms. They are recommended for several types of cancer. We know that these types of cancer are most treatable when we catch them early. Treating a cancer early can sometimes relate to a more manageable course of treatment and better outcomes. That’s why I am sharing this information about the types of cancer screenings available and who should get them.  

You can help prevent a serious case of skin cancer by checking your skin regularly, knowing the marks on your skin (moles, freckles, and other blemishes), and reporting changes to your health care provider. Those with a higher risk of developing skin cancer—people with reduced immunity, a personal or strong family history of skin cancer, and those with many unusual moles—should ask their healthcare provider for a regular skin exam as a part of their routine checkup.

Talk to your doctor about your risk factors for colorectal cancer. People with average risk will likely be advised to start screening at age 45, while higher-risk people will likely need to begin screenings younger, to screen more frequently, or to get specific tests. There are many effective tests available. One screening method, the colonoscopy, is especially useful, because it detects cancer early and can also prevent cancer by removing potentially cancerous growths at an early stage.

Breast cancer is most treatable early, when it’s small and has not spread. Treatment can be easier and more successful too. Regular screening mammograms are recommended, because they are the best way to catch breast cancer at an early stage. People of average risk can start getting mammograms as young as 40. People with higher risk of breast cancer would be advised to screen younger, more often, and using different methods.

Your primary care provider or OB/GYN can conduct regular cervical cancer screenings, which can include an HPV test (which checks for the infection that causes cervical cancer), a co-test (HPV test combined with a Pap test), or a Pap test. People with a cervix and who are at average risk should start cervical cancer screening at age 25. Depending on age, circumstances, and the types of tests available, screening could be recommended every 3 – 5 years.

Smokers and former smokers who meet certain criteria can reduce their risk of dying from lung cancer with an annual lung cancer screening. The screening uses a low-dose CT (LDCT) scan. In order to be eligible, you must be 55 – 74 years old and in fairly good health. In addition, you must have a 30 pack-year smoking history and be either a current smoker who has received counseling to quit or someone who has quit within the last 15 years.  

Screening for prostate cancer may have benefits for some men, especially those who are at high risk, because they are African American or they have one or more close family members who have been diagnosed with prostate cancer at an early age. Know your family health history and talk with  your healthcare provider for guidance that is tailored to your situation.

While not all cancers can be prevented or caught at an early stage, it is especially gratifying when they are. Treatment is less disruptive and more successful. For these reasons, I hope that you will consider making your regular cancer screenings part of your plan to live a long and healthy life.

Rebecca Hewson-Steller, RN BN-CN, is the nurse navigator at the Southwestern Vermont Regional Cancer Center, part of Southwestern Vermont Medical Center in Bennington.

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