What You Should Know About Cancer Screening Before Talking with Your Doctor
No doubt about it, cancer’s a scary topic; one that makes people immediately uncomfortable, since it’s touched nearly all of our lives in one way or another. And perhaps worst of all is how cancer can seemingly appear out of nowhere, wreak havoc on our lives, and snatch our loved ones away in the blink of an eye.
Because cancer is so widespread and can be so unforgiving, along with the fact that medical technology continues to advance at a breakneck speed, we here at Advanced Family Medicine are often asked by our patients about cancer screening. After all, the earlier you find the cancer, the better the chances of survival, right?
What is a Cancer Screening?
Simply put, cancer screening is “looking for cancer before a person has any symptoms.” What many patients may not understand though, is that there isn’t a single test your physician can run in order to screen you for all possible cancers. In other words, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, and identifying different types of cancers requires different types of tests.
What Type of Cancer Screenings Are Available?
For example, if you’re a man 40 years of age or older, you’re much more likely to develop prostate cancer than someone under the age of 40. Because of this increased risk, it might be a wise decision to regularly undergo screening for prostate cancer, usually through a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test.
On the other hand, women regularly undergo Pap smears to check for cervical cancer (or for the presence of the human papillomavirus) or mammograms for breast cancer, while men and women both undergo colonoscopies to check for colon cancer. Lung cancer can be screened using a CT scan, although this comes with relatively high radiation exposure, as well as a high cost.
Regardless, this means that if you have a family history of certain types of cancers, or participate in high risk factors for developing others (e.g. smoking cigarettes), then it may be a good idea to start undergoing screenings on a regular basis. But even if you do regularly undergo screenings, will this help you live longer if you’re diagnosed with cancer?
Do Cancer Screenings Improve Chances of Survival?
Believe it or not, there’s a lot of controversy within the medical community about cancer screening. Not that individuals shouldn’t undergo them, mind you, but about whether or not cancer screenings ultimately save lives. It’s a complex issue that we won’t delve in to too deeply here, but suffice it to say that more and more cancers are being identified early, although the overall rate of survival for many cancers has remained relatively flat. As such, cancer survival rates depend largely on the biology of the cancer (e.g. where it’s located, how big it is, how widespread it is, etc.), the patient’s current age, and their existing level of health.
With all of this said, if identified early, many types of life-threatening cancers can be treated more effectively.
Interested in Learning More About Cancer Screenings?
If so, be sure to contact the friendly staff at Advanced Family Medicine today at (425) 453-6838 to schedule an appointment, and we’ll be happy to discuss your concerns and answer any questions.