Guest Author - Dr. Denise Howard
The survival rates for Breast, Cervical, and Colon cancer have dramatically improved over the past decade. This is primarily due to the availability and effectiveness of screening tests that allow early detection and in some cases prevention of these previously deadly cancers. Given this, every woman should utilize these recommended tests, but what are they and what are the recommendations?
Cervical cancer screening involves a regular pap smear for sexually active women who havenít had a hysterectomy. A scraping of the cervix is taken during a speculum examination. The sample is sent to a lab and the cells from the scraping can be examined for abnormalities such as precancerous changes or cancer itself. The addition of Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) testing has made this screening even more precise.
Further testing in the form of a colposcopy is recommended if precancerous changes are found or certain types of HPV. A colposcopic guided biopsy of the cervix can be taken if abnormalities are noted. This biopsy will typically provide the definitive diagnosis and thereby direct further management. Precancerous changes, also called dysplasia, can be treated early thereby preventing the development of cervical cancer. Detection of precancerous changes allowing for early treatment is the key to preventing cervical cancer.
A mammogram is a radiologic test of the breast that can detect small cancers many years before they can be found on breast examination. Routine mammograms are recommended in all women over the age of 40. In women with a strong family history of breast cancer, earlier screening maybe required. In addition, prevention in the form of selective oral medication is an option in high risk women.
Mammographic abnormalities can be biopsied either with a needle or surgically by excising the area of involvement. This tissue sample can be evaluated by the pathologist and a definite diagnosis made. Early detection is the key to breast cancer survival.
Colonoscopy is the gold standard for colon cancer screening. Other screening tests include a barium enema, annual fecal blood test and a sigmoidoscopy. If any of these tests are abnormal a colonoscopy would be indicated. A routine colonoscopy is recommended at age 50 (earlier in certain groups) and the frequency is every 10 years if the test is completely normal.
It is a procedure by which a lighted scope is passed through the entire colon. Polyps or other abnormalities can be visualized and biopsied. The removal of polyps is also possible and if they are precancerous then their removal will prevent colon cancer.
Other common malignancies in women include Ovarian, Uterine and Lung cancer and there arenít any recommended screening tests for these cancers. Uterine cancer typically presents with earlier abnormal bleeding. Early diagnosis is possible and the survival rate is good. Lung and Ovarian, unfortunately, typically presents late and the chance of survival is low compared with the other cancers mentioned above.
Cancer screening tests for selective malignancies are available. They are effective, safe, inexpensive and well tolerated. Every woman should undergo these tests as recommended and encourage their friends and family to also comply. This is a matter of life and death.
I hope this article has provided you with information that will help you make wise choices, so you may:
Live Healthy, Live Well and Live Long!