Regular Cancer Screening Might Well Save Your Life
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Of all of the new and emerging methods aimed at reducing the number of deaths from cancers such as malignant mesothelioma, one continues to stand head-and-shoulders above the rest in its effectiveness: early detection. Almost without exception, cancer that is found early (ideally, before symptoms even develop) is more responsive to treatment and more likely to be survivable.
This is true even among highly aggressive and frequently lethal cancers like mesothelioma, lung cancer, and ovarian cancer.
The key to early detection and potential cancer survival? Cancer screening. Fortunately, there are proven screening tests for several types of cancer, though not all. For those for which there is no screening test, there are still things you can do to maximize the chances of finding cancer early. Screening tests are currently in use for:
There are several tests designed to detect colon cancer early and increase the chances of beating it. Colonoscopy and sigmoidoscopy allow for detection and removal of suspicious growths in the colon before they become cancerous. Fecal occult blood tests can detect tiny amount of blood in the stool. People at average risk are advised to have screening beginning at age 50.
X-ray imaging of the breast called mammography has been shown to reduce mortality from breast cancer in women between 40 and 74 and is especially effective for those over 50. Tiny tumors that cannot even be felt yet can often be seen on a mammogram in time to remove them before they spread. Women at higher risk because of certain genetic conditions may also be recommended for breast MRI.
Because most cases of cervical cancer are caused by oncogenic varieties of human papillomavirus (HPV), the Pap test and HPV tests may allow doctors to identify abnormal cells on the cervix before they become cancer, reducing deaths from cervical cancer. Testing is recommended for women 21 and older.
The PSA blood test can often detect prostate cancer at a very early stage, before a man has any symptoms. However, because prostate cancer is so slow-growing, expert groups no longer recommend routine screening for most men because it can lead to overdiagnosis and overtreatment and may not reduce the number of deaths.
Low-dose helical computed tomography (CT) for lung cancer is one of the newest screening tests to be introduced and is used to detect lung cancer in heavy smokers between 55 and 74. The National Lung Screening Trial found that people who received these scans had a 15 to 20 percent lower risk of dying from lung cancer than participants who received standard chest X-rays.
Other less common screening tests include the alpha-fetoprotein blood test for people at high risk of liver cancer, skin exams to detect skin cancer, virtual colonoscopy, and transvaginal ultrasound for people at high risk of ovarian cancer.
Although there is no screening test for malignant mesothelioma, a rare but aggressive form of lung cancer caused by asbestos, some studies have suggested that the same CT approach used for heavy smokers or even standard chest X-rays could potentially save the lives of asbestos-exposed individuals.
In addition, people with mesothelioma often have high levels of certain proteins in their blood including osteopontin and soluble mesothelin-related peptides (SMRPs). Although tests for these substances (such as MESOMARK) are currently only used for mesothelioma diagnosis, the American Cancer Society says they may one day help doctors to find asbestos cancer earlier.
In the meantime, the best way for people who may have been exposed to asbestos to protect themselves is to know the early symptoms of mesothelioma including cough, shortness of breath, and chest pain, to have regular physical exams, and to make their doctor aware of their history with asbestos.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is for educational purposes only. It is not meant to diagnose or treat any health condition and is not a replacement for advice, recommendations or treatment by a professional healthcare provider. You should always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional before starting any new treatment or making any changes to an existing treatment. You should not delay in seeking or disregard medical advice based on information in this article.
By Alex Strauss
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