Take control of your good health with regular cancer screenings

April 12, 2021 Swedish Health Team

Cancer screenings can detect cancer when it’s in its earlier stages, which often leads to better outcomes.

  • Stay on top of regular screenings for common cancers, like skin, breast, lung, colorectal and prostate cancers, based on your risk factors.
  • Your doctor can help you decide if you should be screened for other, less common cancers like mouth and throat or testicular cancer.
  • An annual wellness exam is the perfect opportunity to discuss any concerns you have about your health – and to talk to your doctor about ways you can reduce your risk of cancer.

[4 MIN READ]

Cancer prevention. Cancer screening. Cancer survivor.

The American Cancer Society estimates that more than 1.8 million people in the U.S. were diagnosed with cancer in 2020. And that’s only one country and one year.

Now, because of research, innovations and advancements in technology, a cancer diagnosis – while an unexpected (and at times frightening) journey – can be one of hope and determination: Hope that the right combination of screenings, diagnosis and treatment will usher more and more people into a growing group of cancer survivors (a community that’s more than 17 million strong); Determination to uncover therapies – traditional and holistic – to beat cancer and help people live a rich and fulfilling life.

It’s this hope and recognition of the millions of people affected by a cancer diagnosis that are honored in April, during Cancer Control Month. Observed since 1943, Cancer Control Month is an opportunity to elevate the conversation about cancer prevention and treatment. It begins by understanding your risk and what cancer screenings may be best for you.

Cancer screenings save lives

When cancer is detected early (often through regular screenings), it’s often easier to treat – and beat. That’s why it’s so important to stay on top of the recommended cancer screenings for your age and risk factors. That includes following guidelines that can detect the five most common cancers:

  • Breast cancer
  • Lung cancer
  • Prostate cancer
  • Colorectal cancer
  • Melanoma

Here, learn about what to expect during screenings, when to go and why it’s so important to follow your doctor’s recommendations.

Breast cancer

With one in 8 women diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetimes, you likely know someone affected by this disease. Mammograms are an important part of detecting breast cancer early. Currently, the American Cancer Society recommends:

  • Optional annual mammograms for women age 40-44
  • Annual mammograms for women age 45-54
  • Annual or biannual mammograms for women 55 and older

Guidelines will vary based on your risk, so be sure to talk to your doctor about what’s best for you and make plans to get screened, even during the pandemic. Delaying your mammogram could delay starting a treatment regimen that could save your life.   

Read more:

The COVID-19 vaccine and your mammogram

Living with metastatic breast cancer: CyberKnife treatment

Don’t delay your mammogram, even during COVID-19

Lung cancer

Every year in the United States, lung cancer kills more people than breast, colorectal and prostate cancers – combined. One reason is because lung cancer may be difficult to detect until it’s in a later stage. The earlier a cancer is detected, the better your outcome.

Now, low-dose CT scans have been proven to be an effective tool in detecting early signs of lung cancer – even before traditional screenings, like an X-ray can identify suspicious spots in the lung.

Your doctor can help you assess your risk of lung cancer, even if you’re not a smoker, and if you meet the criteria for lung cancer screening.

Read more:

Lung cancer screening program at Swedish  

Get help quitting smoking and tobacco use

Prostate cancer

Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer for men—and the second leading cause of cancer deaths in men. Those statistics can be alarming but staying on top of prostate cancer screenings can help your care team catch this slow-growing cancer early.

Currently, prostate cancer screenings vary greatly by age, race, family history and other risk factors. Your annual physical exam offers the perfect opportunity to talk to your doctor about what type of screening you may need and what risk you may have.

Read more:

When to schedule a prostate cancer screening

Men’s health week: It’s times like these!

Colorectal cancer

Colorectal cancer tends to be more common in adults over the age of 50, but more and more physicians are noticing a troubling trend of increased rates of colorectal cancer in younger patients. Your best defense: An open, honest conversation with your primary care doctor to assess your risk of developing colorectal cancer. You may be at an increased risk if you:

  • Have a family history of colorectal cancer or polyps
  • Are African American
  • Have inflammatory bowel disease
  • Have certain genetic syndromes (familial adenomatous polyps or non-polyposis colorectal cancer)

There are other lifestyle factors that may also put you at higher risk of developing colorectal cancer. Talk with your doctor to decide together when it’s best for you to start screenings.

Read more:

Colorectal cancer screenings may save your life

Preparing for a colonoscopy? Read this first.

Melanoma

There are many different types of skin cancer: Some, like basal and squamous cell skin cancers, are easily treated. Other types, like melanoma, are more likely to spread to other areas of the body. In fact, melanoma – though a less common form of skin cancer – causes a large majority of skin cancer deaths.

Check your skin regularly for any changes and have a medical provider – a primary care physician or dermatologist – do a comprehensive skin check each year. And, of course, wear sunscreen when you’re outside longer than 15 minutes.

Read more:

Are you one of the millions of women at risk for melanoma?

3 surprising ways to get sunburned

How to spot skin cancer

What about the other types of cancer? Will my doctor screen for those?

There are more than 100 types of cancer. That may sound scary but meeting with your doctor on a regular basis – whether it’s for your annual wellness exam or to discuss any new symptoms you’re experiencing – can help you stay in good health.

During your visit, you can share changes to your health, ask questions and share updates to your family history. Your doctor will also perform a physical examination that may identify any warning signs of a new condition and order blood work to get a clear picture of your overall health.

One important note: For some people, it can seem overwhelming to keep track of all of these screenings and numbers. But remember, your doctor is your partner in good health. Together, you can make a plan to reduce your risk of any health conditions – including cancer – and stay on a path of wellness.

Talk to your doctor to see if you need a screening for any of these other types of cancer.

Cervical cancer

Rates of cervical cancer have dropped dramatically with the adoption of regular pap tests. Now, human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines are also lowering the rates of HPV infections, which may lead to cervical cancer. Your doctor will discuss when it’s time for your next pap or HPV test.

Mouth and throat cancer

While mouth and throat cancers aren’t as common as other types of cancers, there have been rising incidences in certain types, especially among men in their 30s and 40s who have been exposed to HPV. Fortunately, these cancers can be detected early with regular screenings, which start with a simple visual exam from your physician or even dentist. 

Testicular cancer

The American Cancer Society estimates that 1 in every 250 males will develop testicular cancer. While this statistic may not seem overly alarming, it’s still best to be aware of its early signs.

Ovarian cancer

There is no recommended screening for ovarian cancer, even though it’s the fifth leading cause of cancer death among women. Catching it early – by recognizing its symptoms and knowing your risk of this disease – can lead to better outcomes. Be sure to discuss any questions, concerns and family history of ovarian or breast cancer with your doctor.  

Living a life of health and wellness

It may be impossible to completely prevent cancer from developing, but there are steps you can take to reduce your risk, including:

  • Stay active
  • Eat healthy
  • Get plenty of sleep
  • Manage stress
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Limit alcohol intake
  • Quit smoking

And, most importantly – don’t skip your annual wellness exam or other appointments for medical conditions. This is your time to make sure you get all of the answers you need and to find a way to stay on the path of good health.

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Find a doctor

Whether you require an in-person visit or want to consult with a doctor virtually, you have options. Swedish Virtual Care connects you face-to-face with a nurse practitioner who can review your symptoms, provide instruction and follow-up as needed. If you need to find a doctor, you can use our provider directory.

Find out the latest updates on how we’re handling COVID-19.

Related resources

Be a partner to someone with cancer

Nutrition is your secret weapon for good gut health

Exercise is medicine for cancer survivors. How can you stay active during a pandemic?

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

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