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Queasy about Invasive Tests?
Medical Screenings Essential for Health
“When it comes to staying healthy, medical screenings are just as important as nutrition and exercise,” says LHSFNA Management Co-Chairman Noel C. Borck. “Some of these procedures are not pleasant, but they often find diseases before signs of illness appear, which is also when they are the most treatable.”
Cancers of the colon, prostate, breast and cervix are diseases that frequently have no symptoms until they have become more invasive, but with early detection, can often be successfully treated.
Colon Cancer and Colonoscopies
Colon or colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer and the third leading cause of cancer death in both men and women in the U.S. Over 140,000 new cases will be diagnosed this year, and the disease will kill more than 40,000 this year. Caught early, the cure rate for colon cancer is 90 percent. However, one out of every three people who should be screened is not.
Colonoscopy is the most thorough of several colorectal cancer screenings. (Talk to your doctor about which screening is appropriate for you.) While a patient is sedated, a doctor uses a thin, flexible tube called a colonoscope to examine the colon for pre-cancerous polyps. Tissue samples can be collected and polyps can be removed.
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The procedure requires a clean colon. This means drinking a solution beforehand that causes loose, frequent stools and frequent trips to the bathroom. Staying home during this preparation is recommended.
Colonoscopy usually takes 30-60 minutes. Due to the sedation, a person who has had the screening must be driven home afterwards.>/p>
The ACS recommends undergoing a first colonoscopy or other colorectal cancer screening at age 50 (sooner if there is a family history for the disease) and at least once every ten years thereafter.
Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of death in American men. Only lung cancer kills more. About one out of every six men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer. One out of every 36 will die from this disease.
Prostate cancer screening involves a test that measures the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) in the blood – when PSA readings are 2.5 or higher, screenings should be yearly – and a digital rectal exam (DRE).
Family history of prostate cancer, ethnicity and age factor into when or if screening should begin. Beginning at age 50, men who are at average risk should discuss the disease with their health care provider. For men considered to be at high risk for prostate cancer, this discussion should begin at age 45. This includes African American men and men who have a father, brother or son who developed the disease before age 65. If there are several family members who had prostate cancer at an early age, this discussion should take place beginning at age 40.
Breast Cancer and Mammograms
Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death among American women. Over 288,000 cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed this year in the United States, and more than 39,000 women will die from the disease. Only lung cancer claims more victims.
A mammogram is an x-ray of the breast. To produce a readable image, the breast is placed between two plates. Each compression lasts for several seconds, which may be painful. A technician must position the breasts for the procedure, which can add to the discomfort. Mammograms can find calcium deposits and masses – oftentimes indicators of cancer – that are too small to be felt through self-breast exams. The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends women get an annual mammogram beginning at age 40.
Cervical Cancer and Pap Tests
This year, more than 12,000 new cases of cervical cancer will be diagnosed among women in the U.S. The disease will kill over 4,000.
The Papanicolaou (Pap) test collects cells from the cervix for examination for signs of cervical cancer. A tissue scraping from the cervix is taken and a small brush or cotton swab collects the sample. The procedure takes just minutes, but can be uncomfortable and may cause spotting. However, Pap tests are why cervical cancer is no longer one of the most common causes of cancer death for women. Due to increased use of Pap tests, the death rate for cervical cancer has declined by nearly 70 percent.
The ACS recommends women begin cervical cancer screenings no later than age 21 or three years after they begin having vaginal intercourse, whichever comes first. For those having intercourse earlier, screenings should begin three years after starting. Until age 30, screenings should be yearly with the regular Pap test; every two years with the newer liquid-based Pap. Based on a woman’s overall health, a health care provider recommends how often a Pap test is necessary after that.
Noting that half of all men and a third of all women in the U.S. will develop cancer, Borck says, “Screening could catch at least half of these at a point where treatment is more likely to be successful. There is no question that screening saves lives. For those feeling squeamish, that should put the awkwardness of undergoing any medical test in proper perspective.”
[Janet Lubman Rathner]