Cancer is an indiscriminate disease. It can affect people of all ages, races, and genders. Cancer.gov estimates that in 2020, more than 1.8 million people in the United States were diagnosed with cancer and a further 600,000 people died from the disease. With statistics like that, there is a high likelihood that our lives or the life of someone we know will be impacted by cancer in some way.
That may sound ominous but there is reason to be positive because cancer survival rates have steadily increased since 1975 from just 49% to nearly 70% across all types of cancer. While the survival rate varies depending on the type of cancer, successful treatment is widely attributed to one consistent factor: early diagnosis.
That’s why it’s so important to visit your doctor annually and discuss your health to determine if a cancer screening is necessary.
What are cancer screenings?
Cancer screens are different types of tests that look for cancer before the cancer can cause any symptoms. So even though you may not be experiencing any health issues related to the cancer, a cancer screen can still detect it.
Depending on the type of cancer that you and your doctor are screening for, the test can take various forms. For example, mammograms check for breast cancer, ultrasounds can check for liver or lung cancer, biopsies can check for skin or bone marrow cancer, etc. Cancer screenings have become highly specialized to ensure a reliable diagnosis for the type of cancer they’re designed to identify.
How often should you get a cancer screening?
Your personal and family health history will dictate when and how often to get a cancer screening. Generally, you should visit your doctor annually to discuss your overall health and raise any concerns that could be cancer-related. Certain types of cancer that commonly impact the general population (breast, colon, cervical, prostate, and skin) are often screened as a preventive measure, but other types of cancer might only be screened based on your family history.
There are a few self-exams that women and men should perform monthly. Women should perform a self-breast exam every month around the same time as their cycle to ensure the exam is consistent and they know if there is a change. Men should perform a self-testicular exam regularly to check for any lumps or changes in size and shape. Both men and women should monitor their skin for any abnormal, new, or changing skin lesions like moles or spots and have them evaluated if they have any concerns.
We cannot stress enough the importance of maintaining regular visits with your doctor, performing self-exams, and looking after your personal health to decrease your chances of developing cancer. If you have any concerns about a new or developing health issue, please contact your doctor to determine if a cancer screening is necessary.