Here’s how cancer is detected and a guide to catching up

Delays of just a few months in detecting various forms of cancer can make treatment more difficult and reduce chances of survival.

Perhaps you put off cancer screenings over the past few years. Delays of just a few months in detecting various forms of cancer can make treatment more difficult and reduce chances of survival.

Here’s a guide to tests that can detect cancer and who should get checked when.

Breast cancer

Mammogram — an X-ray of the breast — is often the most effective way of spotting breast cancer early when treatment can be more than 90% successful. Mammograms expose you to low-dose radiation, and for most people in the following age ranges, the benefits of regular mammograms outweigh the risks of radiation exposure.

  • Women age 50 to 74 and at average risk: Every two years, according to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF).
  • Women age 45 to 54 and at average risk: Annually, according to the American Cancer Society.
  • Those at high risk of breast cancer because of family history or their own medical history may start screening before age 40 in consultation with their health care provider.

Cervical cancer

Pap smears can detect precancerous cells that can develop into cancer without treatment. The HPV test looks for the human papillomavirus that can trigger the cells to develop into cancer

  • Age 21 to 29: Pap smears should start at age 21. A normal test may allow you to wait three years for your next test.
  • Age 30 to 65: Talk to your health care provider about what’s right for you. A normal Pap smear may allow you to wait three years before another. A normal HPV test may allow you to wait five years for the next one. If both tests conducted at the same time are normal, you may be able to wait five years to do it again.
  • Over age 65: Your provider may advise that you don’t need screening anymore if you’ve had normal screenings for several years or if you’ve had your cervix removed as part of hysterectomy, for instance.

Schedule a screening

The Norton Healthcare Mobile Prevention Center is making stops around the Louisville area.

Colon cancer

Colon cancer typically starts with precancerous polyps in the colon or rectum. Once detected, the polyps can be removed before they turn into cancer. A colonoscopy is very thorough and allows the physician to remove any polyps or other suspicious tissue for testing. Stool tests collected at home can be almost as accurate as a colonoscopy, but don’t allow for immediate treatment.

  • Age 45 to 75 and at average risk for colon cancer: People in this age group should get a colonoscopy every 10 years. Black adults across all age groups, including under age 50, have colon cancer more frequently and are more likely to die of colon cancer than white adults.
  • Age 76 to 85: Talk with your health care provider about your overall health and prior screening history. Current evidence shows there is little benefit in screening everyone in this age group.

Lung cancer

Low-dose computed tomography (low-dose CT scan) is used to screen for lung cancer. The test is quick and painless, but carries risk from low-level radiation exposure.

  • Age 50 to 80 with a 20 pack-year smoking history and a current smoker or quit within the past 15 years (A pack year is measured by multiplying the number of packs smoked each day by the number of years. One pack per day for 20 years would be 20 pack years and two packs per day for 20 years would be 40 pack years.)

Screening for ovarian, pancreatic, prostate, testicular and thyroid cancers has not been shown be effective at reducing death, according to the USPSTF.

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