Primary care physicians focus on keeping you healthy and treating you when you get sick. They know your history and can ensure you get the right cancer screenings at the right time. If more people sought preventive care, we could reduce the incidence of many major diseases. When we detect cancer early, the disease is easier to treat. Here are the top ﬁve cancer screenings I recommend:
Mammograms check for breast cancer and changes in breast tissue. Women without a family history or genetic risk factors should have a ﬁrst mammogram between the ages of 40 and 45. Most women should have a screening mammogram every one to two years after their ﬁrst one, depending on age and risk factors. Women with a family history of breast cancer or genetic mutations that put them at high risk for developing breast cancer should have earlier and more frequent tests.
A Pap smear looks for changes to the cervix that might indicate cervical cancer or a precancerous condition. The cells taken from the cervix during the test can also be used to test for the presence of HPV and can determine the HPV sub-type. Frequency of testing depends on your age, history of abnormal Pap smears and the type of HPV, if present.
Lung CT screening
If you have a history of smoking, a lung CT could help detect lung cancer early. Computed tomography (CT or CAT scan) is a diagnostic test that uses a combination of X-rays and computer technology to create images of the body. A CT scan shows detailed images of the bones, muscles, fat, blood vessels and organs. CT scans help physicians diagnose many conditions that might not be caught with other imaging methods like X-ray or ultrasound. This test starts for those age 55 or older who have greater than 30 pack-years of smoking. (A pack-year is one pack of cigarettes per day per year. One pack per day for 30 years or 2 packs per day for 15 years would both be 30 pack-years.)
PSA, or prostate speciﬁc antigen, testing allows doctors to look for signs of prostate cancer in men. Most men have their ﬁrst PSA test at age 50. Men with a family history of prostate cancer should get screened earlier. Patients and their physicians should discuss the risks and beneﬁts of PSA screening.
A colonoscopy checks the colon for signs of cancer or precancerous changes. Women and men who are healthy and don’t have known risk factors typically have their ﬁrst colonoscopy at age 50, and every ﬁve to 10 years after. Ask your doctor what’s right for you.
If you don’t have a primary care doctor, ﬁnd one. Talk to your doctor about cancer screenings and tests you should have and when you should have them.
About the Expert
Richard Grucz, M.D., is a family medicine physician with Beaumont.