Cancer Screenings: When to Get Tested & What to Keep in Mind

Dr. Zaheed Husain
Senior Laboratory Director, Cancer Diagnostics
Praava Health

Dr. Musharraf Hussain
Senior Consultant – Family Medicine
Praava Health

Cancer is a leading cause of death globally, counting for approximately 10 million deaths in 2020, or nearly one in six deaths with the most common cancers being breast, lung, colon, rectum, and prostate cancers. COVID-19 has been a driving force to put numerous preventive measures on hold, including screening for cancer. 

Many cancers can be cured if detected early and treated effectively, which further signifies the importance of screening. February is Cancer Prevention Month, which is a great time to know about cancer screening guidelines or book a visit with your doctor to create a personalized cancer screening plan.

Together with your healthcare provider, you can identify if you have certain risk factors that may accelerate your chances of getting cancer. Depending on your health conditions, family history, environmental factors, and lifestyle choices, you may need cancer screenings earlier or more frequently than usual. Otherwise, most screenings are determined by age.

Symptoms:

Cancer symptoms vary depending on which part of the body is affected. The following are some general signs and symptoms associated with, but not specific to, cancer:

  • Fatigue
  • Lump or area of thickening that can be felt under the skin
  • Weight changes, including unintended loss or gain
  • Skin changes, such as yellowing, darkening, or redness of the skin, sores that won’t heal, or changes to existing moles
  • Changes in bowel or bladder habits
  • Persistent cough or trouble breathing
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Hoarseness
  • Persistent indigestion or discomfort after eating
  • Persistent, unexplained muscle or joint pain
  • Persistent, unexplained fevers or night sweats
  • Unexplained bleeding or bruising

When should one initiate cancer screenings?

Some types of cancer may not display symptoms until later stages as they develop slowly. Screenings for cancer provide the best chance of finding it early, before it has spread, in people who are asymptomatic. 

The American Cancer Society recommends the following cancer screenings according to age, for people without a higher-than-average risk:

In your 20s and 30s

After the age of 25, women should begin screening for cervical cancer by receiving a primary HPV, or human papillomavirus, test every five years. Cervical cancer can be caused by HPV, which is a common sexually transmitted virus. Every three years, women should also receive a Pap, or Papanicolaou test. This test allows doctors to detect abnormalities in cervical cells.

In your 40s

Both men and women should begin screening for colon cancer at the age of 45. Early signs of colon cancer can be detected by stool tests or by examining the colon through a colonoscopy. Women should begin mammograms at 45 to check for breast cancer. 

In your 50s and 60s 

Men who are aged 50 and older should talk to their doctor about beginning prostate cancer screenings. If testing is recommended, it commonly includes a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test. However, PSA counts are sensitive to other factors, so results may be somewhat unreliable. A doctor can determine if more testing, like prostate imaging or a biopsy is needed.

Although the USPSTF (United States Preventive Services Task Force) originally suggested that women aged 50 to 74 years have biennial screening mammography, ACS (American Cancer Society) guidelines strongly recommend annual mammography beginning at the age of 45.

What can you do to reduce your risk of getting cancer?

Screenings for cancer can help you detect cancers in their early stages, but you can also lower your cancer risk by taking preventive measures. While cancer prevention research is always evolving, there’s no guarantee that preventative measures will work but most doctors agree that making healthy choices can make a difference.  

Cancer can be caused by certain viruses. The Hepatitis B virus can cause liver cancer, and the HPV virus can cause cervical and other genital cancers. It is a good thing that there are vaccines that protect against both of these viral infections and reduce the risk of cancer. In addition, avoiding tobacco products and drinking alcohol only in moderation can reduce your risk of many cancers, including lung, mouth, throat, pancreas, and bladder cancers. You can reduce your risk of skin cancers by minimizing your time in the sun and avoiding tanning beds, which are some of the most common and preventable types of cancer. In addition to checking your skin monthly, you should see a dermatologist once a year for a full-body skin exam.

Cancer Screening & Detection at Praava

At Praava, we will work with you to discuss and arrange for cancer screening and advice on cancer prevention. Our doctors and the Molecular Cancer Diagnostics lab offer early detection of the following cancers: 

  • Colorectal Cancer (CRC): Adults who are 45 years or older with an average risk of CRC aged should get screening with a stool-based test. Positive screening test results should be followed up with prompt colonoscopy.
  • Cervical Cancer: The tests for cervical cancer screening are – pap test, pap test with HPV co-testing, and high-risk HPV testing only.  
  • Prostate Cancer: USPSTF guideline is to screen using the PSA test. The interval between screening is every two years for men whose PSA is less than 2.5 ng/mL, and yearly screening for men whose PSA level is 2.5 ng/mL or higher. The recommendation is for further evaluation or biopsy if PSA level is 4.0 ng/ml or higher in men who are at average risk for prostate cancer.
  • Breast cancer: Mammography, Ultrasound of breast, and breast self-exam are modalities for breast cancer screening.

If you think you are at risk (eg. family history) or fall in the age group for cancer screening, reach out to us at 10648. To learn more about the services offered by Praava Health, please visit our website.