As a urologist, my main goal at work is to ensure that my patients don’t need to be told that they have cancer.
No one ever wants to hear their name and the word cancer in the same sentence but in some cases, that is unavoidable.
Early screening reduces the chance that someone who is screened regularly will die from cancer.
Even though we have come a long way when it comes to cancer screening and treatment, there is still a long way to go in ensuring the public are attending screenings from the get go, often cancer screening happens too late.
- Cancer statistics you need to be aware of
- Can you live with cancer for years without knowing?
- How often should you get checked for cancer?
- What steps can you take to lower your risk of developing cancer?
Cancer statistics you need to be aware of
It is estimated that 1 in 3 people will be diagnosed with cancer at some point during their life.
It is estimated that 1 in 5 people will die from cancer.
There are currently 17 million cancer survivors in the U.S. It is expected that there will be 22.1 million cancer survivors in 2030.
In the US, the most common cancers for men are prostate cancer, lung cancer, colorectal cancer and bladder cancer ).
In the US, the most common cancers in women are breast cancer, lung cancer, colorectal cancer and uterine cancer
Early diagnosis and better treatment options mean that there are now more cancer survivors in the United States than ever before. Thankfully the survival rates for some cancers (including breast, prostate and thyroid cancers ) are now 90%, or better.
Some people whose cancers are detected early, and treated, may have better outcomes than people whose cancers were not found until they noticed symptoms. Effective screening tests are not yet available for many cancer types, however, there are a number of effective screening tests available and this raises the importance of regular and appropriate screening.
It’s important to understand and realize that even if you feel perfectly healthy, you may still carry a significant risk of developing cancer.
My role is to lower my patient's risk so I want this article to provide readers with the know-how they need to better understand their cancer risk as well as recommended screening ages.
Can you live with cancer for years without knowing?
It is possible to live with cancer for years without knowing. Some cancers may take a long time to develop before they produce any signs or symptoms.
For this reason, it may be difficult to know whether you have cancer, this is why regular screening is so important.
Generally speaking, patients are more likely to experience cancer symptoms when the cancer has spread or metastasized due to the fact that cancer growths may push on nearby organs, blood vessels, nerves and tissues.
There are no set times when it comes to how long it may take for cancer to develop, however some cancers may take years and years to become malignant and begin to spread.
Colorectal cancer may take 10 years to grow from a precancerous polyp into cancer and therefore cause symptoms.
HPV infection may take 10-30 years to cause cervical cancer and therefore symptoms.
Prostate cancer may take 15 years to spread to other parts of the body and therefore cause symptoms.
A number of screening tests are available for colorectal cancer and have been shown to reduce the risk of dying from that cancer. The USPSTF recommends that all people between the ages of 50 and 75 years old be screened for colorectal cancer.
If there is a strong family history, screening should start earlier. Ultimately, this can be decided in collaboration with a primary care physician. The least intrusive method of colorectal cancer screening uses a stool sample, collected at home, to look for blood in the stool, which could be an early sign of cancer.
Screening for cervical cancer using the Pap test has decreased the number of cervical cancer cases occurring. For women testing for the human papillomavirus (HPV) is recommended, and while many different types of HPV can affect the cervix, only some cause the abnormal cell growth which leads to cancer. You can check your HPV status at home by taking a HPV swab, or it is carried out during a cervical PAP smear/cervical smear test.
A HPV Test or pap smear is a good screening tool for cervical cancer and this should be completed at regular intervals, based on a woman's age. Women should also consider routine breast exam with a physician in conjunction with regular mammogram x-ray imaging.
It is scary to think that prostate cancer usually has no symptoms until the cancer is well progressed. How, then, is a man supposed to know he has the disease? There are a number of different screening tests available for prostate cancer, however, it is currently unclear in the benefits of using these tests outweigh the risks, for most men.
Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) is a protein made by cells in the prostate gland. Many common conditions can cause PSA levels in the blood to be elevated, but PSA concentrations also increase with cancer.
Most current guidelines for prostate cancer testing are that men talk to their doctor about prostate cancer screening once they reach 50 years of age, unless they are African American, or they have a family history of prostate cancer, in which case screening might begin earlier.
How often should you get checked for cancer?
There are no one size fits all recommended cancer screening ages, and generally speaking, cancer screening ages, as recommended public health bodies can widely differ.
For instance, in the case of colorectal cancer screening, Japan recommends screening at the age of 40 wheras the likes of Finland and Iceland recommend over the age of 60.
The below recommended screening ages are U.S. based recommendations and come from the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention.
What steps can you take to lower your risk of cancer risk?
Family history and genetics have a large impact on your cancer risk. However, there are certainly steps that all of us can take to lower our risk such as eating healthily, exercising regularly, managing stress and avoiding negative lifestyle habits such as smoking tobacco products, excessive alcohol consumption and the use of recreational drugs.
Regular screening and educating yourself on the best way that you can understand your cancer risk is the most effective way to safeguard your health.
Written by Dr. Robert Mordkin | Edited by Hannah Kingston