Research confirms this fact about cancer: Early detection provides the best chances for a favorable outcome.
More than 7.6 million women are cancer survivors today – mainly because they discovered their diseases in their initial stages.
A recent review by the American Cancer Society found a 38 percent decline in breast cancer mortality among women who were screened with mammography. Meanwhile, cervical cancer incidence and mortality rates have decreased by more than 50 percent over the past three decades, with most of the reduction attributed to screening with the Papanicolaou (Pap) test.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), among other organizations, continues to research and develop recommendations for cancer screenings. The Task Force is an independent panel of experts in primary care and prevention who systematically reviews the evidence of effectiveness and develops recommendations for clinical preventive services.
Each year, the Task Force makes a report to Congress that identifies critical evidence gaps in research related to clinical preventive services and recommends priority areas that deserve further examination.
Here, among others, three screenings women should include in their health care program:
Most mammograms are digital, which means they produce more accurate, detailed images. Starting at age 40, all women should have annual screening mammograms, according to the American Cancer Society. USPSTF calls for mammograms every two years, starting at age 50 but stopping screening after age 75.
This test involves a swab of your cervix during your pelvic exam to collect cells. Pap test results will come in as normal, unclear, or abnormal. An abnormal result means that the cells might become cancerous. This test is recommended every three years from age 21 up until age 65. For women who prefer to screen less often, they advise a Pap test once every five years along with an HPV DNA test, from ages 30 until 65.
Uterine and Endometrial Cancer Detection
Women who experience abnormal vaginal bleeding, bleeding after menopause, pelvic pain during sex or when urinating should see a doctor. An ultrasound creates a picture of your internal organs and any unusual bumps that may be tumors. A biopsy on a uterine tissue sample is the definitive test, in which a lab checks the sample for cancer cells.
Ovarian Cancer Screening
The USPSTF recommends against routine screening for ovarian cancer by ultrasound or by blood tests because these have not proved effective over the years. They do recommend testing if you have symptoms of ovarian cancer, a family history of ovarian cancer, or BRCA gene mutations that can put you at higher risk for ovarian cancer.
Skin Cancer Check
If you see any of the ABCDEs of skin cancer when checking your moles, make an appointment with your doctor:
- Asymmetry: One side of your mole is different from the other.
- Border: Your mole's edge has an irregular shape, is scalloped or is not well defined.
- Color: Your mole's color varies, with shades of tan, brown, black, white, red or blue.
- Diameter: You have a mole that's larger than the diameter of a pencil eraser.
- Evolving: Your mole has changed size, shape or color.
Lung Computer Tomography Scan (CT)
This is a more accurate and detailed image of the lungs than a simple x-ray. Smokers or former smokers between 55 and 80 who have a 30 pack-year smoking history should have a yearly spiral CT. To calculate your pack-year number, multiply the number of packs you smoked per day by the number of years you smoked. A pack a day for 30 years is a 30 pack-year history, and so is two packs a day for 15 years.
The first screening test for colon cancer is a yearly fecal occult blood test, used to find blood in stool — a possible sign of polyps or other growths in the colon or rectum. If blood is found, your doctor may recommend a colonoscopy. Colonoscopy screening for colorectal cancer should start at age 50 and be done every 10 years unless recommended more often by your doctor, up until age 75.