How often should a person get screened for various cancers?
It depends on a host of factors, according to Dr. Derek Weaver during a presentation this past Tuesday night at Sunnyside Community Hospital.
On Tuesday night, Weaver said screenings likely don't need to be done very often for some cancers. Cervical cancer, for example, occurs most of the time because of unsafe sex practices, Weaver says. As a result, women with partners in a committed, monogamous relationship likely don't need to have a pap smear every year.
The same goes for PSA tests and traditional rectal exams given to men to see if they have prostrate cancer. Weaver, a family physician in Grandview, says he generally doesn't do those tests unless men are showing symptoms or have a family history of prostrate cancer.
He says rectal exams check just a small part of the prostrate. In addition, research has shown that PSA tests can lead to a false impression of testing positive for cancer and end up doing more harm than good.
Since October is breast cancer awareness month, Weaver spent quite a bit of time on that cancer and how women can examine themselves to see if they have a lump.
"In most cases no one should have to die from breast cancer," Weaver says. He notes if caught early breast cancer is highly treatable. If left undetected, though, he says it can spread rapidly.
Weaver also touched on other common cancers, noting lung cancer is the most preventable as it is primarily caused by smoking.
"There would be a 90 percent reduction in lung cancer if we got rid of smoking," Weaver said.
He also showed examples of malignant skin cancers and said they, too, are treatable if caught early on.
Weaver cited the ABC's of self-examining moles and other skin lesions suspect for cancer if they have: asymmetrical shapes, borders that are abnormal or coloration changes.
As for colon cancer screening, Weaver said there are a number of alternatives for exams other than an invasive colonoscopy, such as a sigmoidoscopy that inspects the lower, most vulnerable portion of the colon.
As with other cancers, the pace of colo-rectal screening depends on multiple factors.
Weaver says generally those over 50 years of age should be checked and then after that about every 10 years. However, if there is a family history of colo-rectal cancer then those screenings should be more often, he adds.
The bottom line, says Weaver, is there is no master blood test to detect all cancers.
Instead, he says patients need to be in tune to changes in their bodies - then alert their physician right away so tests and possible treatments can begin if there is a cancer diagnosis.