For many of us, spring is the time of year we take on many of those household fix-it and clean-up projects that we’ve been putting off for too long. Why not make it the time of year to get your annual medical check-ups and cancer-screening tests, too? What better way to greet this glorious change of season than to start with a clean bill of health?
“We sometimes take better care of our houses than we do our own bodies,” said medical oncologist Robert A. Somer, MD, of the Cooper Cancer Institute.
“Keeping up with regular medical check-ups and cancer screenings is an important part of our health. Talk to your doctor about what tests and services might be right for you, because if problems are found early, they will be easier to treat,” Dr. Somer said.
The American Cancer Society recommends these screening guidelines for most adults:
- Yearly mammograms are recommended starting at age 40.
- Clinical breast exam (physical exam by a healthcare professional) about every three years for women in their 20s and 30s and every year for women 40 and over.
- Women should know how their breasts normally look and feel and report any breast change promptly to their health care provider. Breast self-exam is an option for women starting in their 20s.
The American Cancer Society recommends that some women, because of their family history, a genetic tendency, or certain other factors, be screened with MRI in addition to mammograms. (The number of women who fall into this category is small: less than 2 percent of all the women in the U.S.) Talk with your doctor about your history and whether you should have additional tests at an earlier age.
Colorectal Cancer and Polyps
Beginning at age 50, both men and women should follow one of these testing schedules:
Tests that find polyps and cancer
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5 years*.
- Colonoscopy every 10 years.
- Double-contrast barium enema every 5 years*.
- CT colonography (virtual colonoscopy) every 5 years.
Tests that primarily find cancer
- Yearly fecal occult blood test (gFOBT)**.
- Yearly fecal immunochemical test (FIT) every year**.
- Stool DNA test (sDNA), interval uncertain**.
* If the test is positive, a colonoscopy should be done.
** The multiple stool take-home test should be used. One test done by the doctor in the office is not adequate for testing. A colonoscopy should be done if the test is positive.
The tests that are designed to find both early cancer and polyps are preferred if these tests are available to you and you are willing to have one of these more invasive tests. Talk to your doctor about which test is best for you.
The American Cancer Society recommends that some people be screened using a different schedule because of their personal history or family history. Talk with your doctor about your history and what colorectal cancer screening schedule is best for you.
- All women should begin cervical cancer screening about three years after they begin having vaginal intercourse, but no later than 21 years old. Screening should be done every year with the regular Pap test or every two years using the newer liquid-based Pap test.
- Beginning at age 30, women who have had three normal Pap test results in a row may get screened every two to three years. Women older than 30 may also get screened every three years with either the conventional or liquid-based Pap test, plus the human papilloma virus (HPV) test.
- Women 70 years of age or older who have had 3 or more normal Pap tests in a row and no abnormal Pap test results in the last 10 years may choose to stop having Pap tests.
- Women who have had a total hysterectomy (removal of the uterus and cervix) may also choose to stop having Pap tests, unless the surgery was done as a treatment for cervical cancer or pre-cancer. Women who have had a hysterectomy without removal of the cervix should continue to have Pap tests.
Some women, because of their history, may need to have a different screening schedule for cervical cancer.
Endometrial (Uterine) Cancer
The American Cancer Society recommends that at the time of menopause, all women should be informed about the risks and symptoms of endometrial cancer. Women should report any unexpected bleeding or spotting to their doctors.
Some women, because of their history, may need to consider having a yearly endometrial biopsy. Talk with your doctor about your history.
The American Cancer Society recommends that men make an informed decision with their doctor about whether to be tested for prostate cancer. Research has not yet proven that the potential benefits of testing outweigh the harms of testing and treatment. The American Cancer Society believes that men should not be tested without learning about what we know and don’t know about the risks and possible benefits of testing and treatment.
Starting at age 50, men are advised to talk with their doctor about the pros and cons of testing so they can decide if testing is the right choice for them. If you are African American or have a father or brother who had prostate cancer before age 65, you should have this talk with your doctor starting at age 45. If you decide to be tested, you should have the PSA blood test with or without a rectal exam. How often you are tested will depend on your PSA level.
For people aged 20 or older having periodic health exams, a cancer-related check-up should include health counseling and, depending on a person’s age and gender, exams for cancers of the thyroid, oral cavity, skin, lymph nodes, testes, and ovaries, as well as for some non-malignant (non-cancerous) diseases.
“Remember, a healthy lifestyle can reduce your cancer risk,” Dr. Somer said. “Avoid tobacco, maintain a healthy weight, exercise regularly, eat lots of fruits and vegetables, limit alcoholic beverages, and protect your skin from the sun,” he added.
About Cooper Cancer Institute
Within the Cooper Cancer Institute, multidisciplinary teams consisting of physicians (medical, gynecologic, radiation and surgical oncologists), nurses and other clinical specialists work together to provide cancer patients with the most advanced diagnostic and treatment technologies available, access to groundbreaking clinical trials and dynamic patient-physician relationships. A full complement of support services including nutritional counseling, genetic testing and counseling, social work services, complementary medicine therapies and behavioral health support services provides complete, compassionate care for our patients.
The Cooper Cancer Institute is a Major Clinical Research Affiliate of The Cancer Institute of New Jersey, a National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center. Cooper Cancer Institute is the only accredited American College of Surgeons Teaching Hospital Cancer Program in South Jersey.
Cooper Cancer Institute offers cancer screening opportunities and education programs on cancer prevention, detection and treatment year round at locations throughout South Jersey.
Please check the Cooper Calendar of Events for information on upcoming programs, or call 1-800-8-COOPER to schedule an appointment or for more information about Cooper Cancer Institute programs and services.