Vital Cancer Screenings for Women
February is Cancer Prevention Month. To celebrate and spread awareness of the importance of regular cancer screenings, we’ve put together a list of common cancers in women and their screenings.
Screenings help doctors diagnose and treat many types of cancer, often before symptoms begin. Early detection is incredibly important because when cancer is found at its early stages, it is less likely to have spread and easier to treat. Early detection also increases the chance of making a full recovery!
Sounds like everyone should follow the doctor’s orders and get screened!
Breast cancer is a common type of cancer in women and occasionally men. Breast cancer is when abnormal cells in the breast grow out of control. These cells are commonly located in the ducts and glands associated with breast milk, but can be found anywhere in the breast and surrounding tissue and nodes.
Breast Cancer accounts for an estimated 29% of new cancer cases in women and also 15% of cancer deaths according to the American Cancer Society.
Risk factors that can increase your risk of developing Breast Cancer include:
- Alcohol Consumption
- Being Overweight or Obese
- Not Having Children
- Birth Control
- Hormone Therapy After Menopause
Doctors recommend that women perform self-breast exams once a month. A self-breast exam is a very simple process where you gently feel your breasts, looking for any changes, such as lumps. This exam is best done at the same time in your monthly cycle if you are premenopausal, due to changes that occur during your cycle.
As you continue to perform monthly exams, it will become easier to notice changes.
- Look in the mirror, checking for any noticeable changes. Visual changes can include swelling and dimpling.
- Lying flat on your back, use the pads of your fingers to check each breast and armpit for anything that feels abnormal, such as a lump or knot.
- Using the same technique, check your nipples for any lumps and discharge.
According to Johns Hopkins Hospital, 40% of the breast cancers found in women, are found by woman who noticed a lump.
Breast Cancer Screening
Early detection of breast cancer and the many state of the art treatments are the most important strategies to prevent death due to breast cancer. Discovered early, when breast cancer hasn’t had the chance to grow and spread, it is often easily treated. Regular screening is the key to early detection.
Mammograms. A mammogram is a type of x-ray that is used to discover signs of breast tumors. Since mammograms are digital, they are able to produce detailed, more accurate images. 3D mammograms are a newer method that are increasing detection rates.
Genetic Testing. Genetic tests, such as BRCA gene mutation test, use blood or saliva to detect mutations in genes. These tests can help detect many different types of cancer, including breast.
Clinical Breast Exam. Research has shown a huge benefit of physical breast exams performed by both woman and their health care professional. Many cases of breast cancer are discovered by a lump being found, making physical breast exams an important screening tool.
Female Reproductive Cancers
There are so many types of cancer that begin in the female reproductive system that it is vital for women to stay up to date on their cancer screenings. Female reproductive cancers include cancer that begins in the cervix, ovaries, uterus, vagina, and vulva. Basically anywhere in the primary reproductive system.
Since there are so many options of where cancer can begin in the female reproductive system and so many different risk factors, please see our other blogs for more detailed information for risk factors.
Reproductive Cancer Screenings
While many of these exams are testing for cervical cancer, they can also help to determine if other cancers might be a risk. While many find some of these test uncomfortable, they are important and lifesaving screenings. Early detection is the easiest way for doctors to get ahead of cancer and beat this terrible disease.
Pap Smear. The majority of woman after puberty know of and have experienced a pap smear. During a pap smear, your doctor examines and takes samples from your cervix and sends them to a lab. The lab then takes a look at these cells for signs of anything abnormal.
Well Woman Exam. Well woman exams can be paired with a pap smear. During this exam, the doctor examines not only the primary sex organs, but also secondary sex organs. This allows doctors to notice any abnormalities that could point towards cancer and other diseases.
Genetic Testing. Similar to breast cancer, BRCA gene testing can help to find your risks of developing ovarian cancer. Human Papillomavirus, or HPV, also has a DNA test that can help doctors pinpoint your chances of developing cervical cancer. This test is performed similarly to the pap smear by taking samples of cells during a pelvic exam.
With the case of all cancer diagnoses, it is extremely important to follow the doctor’s orders and get up to date on all recommended cancer screenings. While it may seem like a hassle, getting screened can save your life; finding cancer before it can spread.
Some of the important things to remember with cancer screenings is that there is the possibility of false positive and false negative results. While these tests are an amazing asset, they are far from foolproof.
A false positive result comes from a test that shows that cancer is present, even though it is not. This can happen due to many reasons, whether that be an issue with the sample or simply an error at the lab.
A false negative result comes from a test that shows the patient is cancer free, even though they are not. A false negative result can be caused by errors in the sample or that the cancer simply doesn’t have the specific quality that is being tested for; no cancer is exactly the same.
Regardless of the results, it is important to keep a calm head and follow up with your doctor with what the next step should be.
Written by D. Maves