We are often asked by patients if there was anything they could have done to prevent cancer. While ways to totally prevent cancer have not been proven, there is evidence of things you can do to greatly reduce your risk of developing the disease. They include:
While cancer screening may not prevent the disease, it is one of the most important things you can do for your health. Cancer screening tests are used to detect cancer, even before you might have symptoms. The goal of screening is to find cancer early, when chances of successful treatment are highest.
Because of extensive research and advances in technology, doctors now are able to order tests to screen for several different types of cancer, which is especially important for people that are at a higher risk of developing the disease.
The screening tests shown below are for average risk individuals. Screening for higher risk individuals will usually begin at an earlier age.
Breast Cancer: Beginning at the age of 40, mammograms have been proven to be the most effective way to screen for breast cancer. The American Cancer Society’s Facts & Figures 2019 report indicates that breast cancer death rates declined 40% from 1989 to 2016 among women. The progress is attributed to improvements in early detection.
Prostate Cancer: PSA (prostate specific antigen) screening is a blood test that detects protein made by cells in the prostate gland. A DRE (digital rectal exam) is a physical examination that a doctor does to feel any irregularities of the prostate gland. Beginning at age 45, the National Comprehensive Cancer Network recommends that healthy men, with average risk discuss benefits of a baseline PSA screening test and a DRE (digital rectal exam) with their primary care physician. Both types of screening are used to detect changes or abnormalities which may be present. Other factors that are also considered including a patient's age, personal and family health history will help their physician determine the need and frequency for additional follow up testing.
Cervical Cancer: Pap tests can detect abnormal cells in a woman’s cervix that might turn in to cancer, and it can find cervical cancers early. Screening women for HPV (human papillomavirus) has also been effective because the virus is responsible for the cell changes that cause cancer of the cervix. When detected early, this cancer has a greater chance of being cured. Cervical screening should begin at age 21.
Colorectal Cancer: There are several tests that are used to help detect colon cancer, but the gold standard is the colonoscopy. This screening test can find precancerous polyps and they can be removed before they become cancer. The colonoscopy examines the entire colon and can find colon cancer at an earlier stage when there is a higher chance of successful treatment.
The American Cancer Society’s Facts & Figures 2019 report shows that colorectal cancer death rates declined 53% from 1970 to 2016 among men and women because of increased screening and improvements in treatment. However, in adults younger than age 55, new cases of colorectal cancer have increased almost 2% per year since the mid-1990s. In 2018, the ACS lowered the recommended age for colorectal cancer screening to age 45 from the previous recommendation at age 50.
Lung Cancer: The National Comprehensive Cancer Network recommends that patients discuss their health history and individual risk factors with their physician to determine if lung cancer screening with a low dose CT scan is recommended. This includes individuals who are in one of these groups:
Group 1 individuals age 55 to 77 with a 30 or more pack year history who currently smoke or quit less than 15 years ago
Group 2 individuals aged 50 or older with a 20 or more pack year history who are either current or former smokers with at least 1 additional risk factor such as personal history of lung cancer, family history of lung cancer in first degree relatives, radon exposure, and occupational exposure