The coronavirus pandemic led to a drop in health screenings in the past year due to safety concerns of spreading COVID-19. Many health centers have implemented safety protocols to protect patients and encourage health check ups, including cancer screenings. These screenings have come a long way in detecting early stage cancers, leading to higher long-term survival rates. Keep reading to learn about 5 cancer screenings not to miss.
There has been a drop in diagnoses of many cancers in the last year. But this isn’t necessarily good news. COVID-19 restrictions and concerns caused delays in cancer screenings, diagnoses and treatment for many. For example, one electronic medical record system estimated an 80-90 percent decline in screenings for breast, colorectal and cervical screenings in March and April 2020 versus the same time in 2019, according to a report from the American Cancer Society. The full impact of COVID on cancer patients won’t be truly visible for years to come.
As more people get COVID vaccines and health organizations learn protocols and guidelines to safely treat patients during the pandemic, more people can get necessary and critical cancer screenings.
The importance of cancer screenings
I am one of the fortunate women whose annual mammogram screening caught breast cancer at a very early stage. An odd shadow spotted on my 3D mammogram led to a biopsy and then diagnosis. Thanks to this screening, it was an early catch. I also am faithful about skin checks. With a family history of melanoma, plus red hair and pale skin (a triple threat), I started annual skin checks at an early age. These led to catching my melanoma in situ (contained). Now I do regular 6-month skin checks. And while I’ve had multiple mole biopsies over the years, I believe these skin checks have saved my life.
That’s why cancer screenings are so important.
While there are standard guidelines for many cancer screenings, you should talk to your doctor to determine what’s right for you. Factors such as health, family history and lifestyle can affect when to get screened. Many guidelines are for people of ‘average risk,’ but it’s best to talk to your doctor to determine if standard guidelines are for you.
Despite an increasing number of people getting vaccines, COVID-19 cases are rising in many states as people get lax about precautions. However, health centers and doctors’ offices have implemented safety procedures to lower the risk. Mask mandates, visitor restrictions, temperature checks, sanitizing stations and more are standard routine at most health centers. If you are curious about guidelines, contact your doctor’s office or the testing center to ask.
Thanks to great communication and strict new office procedures, I have been comfortable keeping up on my health checks. In the past few months, I’ve had oncology check ups, outpatient surgery at a hospital, skin cancer screening and other. I’ve felt comfortable that I’m protecting myself from COVID (as much as one can following guidelines). I’m grateful that these offices take COVID-19 precautions very seriously. It lets me continue to be proactive about taking care of my health.
Here are 5 cancer screenings not to miss:
There are a variety of skin cancer types. Knowing which type you have affects treatment options. But catching skin cancer at its earliest can stop it from spreading. Different types of skin cancer can look, well, different. That’s why it’s so important to see a doctor if you notice new or changing moles, marks or spots on your skin.
Breast cancer screening:
Recommendations are kind of across the board on when to start mammograms for breast cancer screenings. Some organizations recommend starting at age 40, others 45, and still others at 50. I’m grateful that my doctor recommended a 3D mammogram starting at age 40 because early stage breast cancer was detected. Who knows my outcome had I waited until 45 to have my first mammogram? Scary to think about. And while some doctors downplay the benefit of breast self-exams, it’s so important to be familiar with how your breasts look and feel. Any changes (lump, pain, size, etc) should be shared with your doctor. Remember that breast cancer also affects men so pay attention too, guys.
Colorectal cancer screening:
Colorectal cancer is the fourth most common diagnosis in the United States. But screening can help prevent this cancer in men and women. Common tests include a stool-based test or colonoscopy. The American Cancer Society recommends that people at average risk of colorectal cancer start regular screening at age 45, although United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) still recommends screening at age 50. Check your insurance coverage and talk to your doctor to know what’s best for you.
Annual prostate cancer screenings should begin at age 40. There is no official screening test for testicular cancer so physical exams should begin at age 15, according to the CDC. An annual exam by a doctor is good but keep in mind that knowing your own body is important in catching changes quickly.
Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is a common virus that can cause six types of cancer, including throat, anal and penile cancers in males. There is no treatment for HPV, but a vaccine can help prevent it. This is recommended for males and females ages 9-12 (although it can be given through young adult). Click here to learn more about the HPV vaccine.
Pap test can screen for a variety of female issues, including cervical cancer and HPV. As mentioned above, the HPV vaccine helps prevent six types of cancer, including cervical, vaginal, vulvar, anal and throat cancers in females.
I shared 5 cancer screenings not to miss, but you may need something else based on your personal health, age, etc. There are hundreds of types of cancer so the reality is that you should be proactive with wellness check ups and other health tests. And remember that YOU know your body best! It’s important to talk to your doctor about changes in your health, no matter how small they may seem. If you have history of cancer or other health issues, smoking, and/or a family history, make sure you stay on track with follow up and testing.
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