Tips for Detecting Cancer Early
Early diagnosis often means a much higher likelihood of successful cancer treatment, so it’s important to do everything you can to detect cancer as soon as possible. When it comes to early cancer detection, it’s important to know a number of things, including your family cancer history and what signs to watch out for. You should also know what cancer screenings to get and when, as well as how to make changes in your lifestyle to reduce the risk of developing cancer. Below are some tips to help you look out for your health and improve your chance of early cancer detection.
Know Your History
Educating yourself on your family cancer history can help you reduce the risk of developing certain cancers as well as helping you detect them early. Certain kinds of family history, like those below, can increase your risk and may indicate a need for earlier or more frequent cancer screening.
- Family members that developed cancers earlier than most people
- More than one family member who has had that particular cancer
- Combinations of diseases within a family (like breast and ovarian cancer)
- Genetic tendencies toward certain cancers
Pair your knowledge of your family history with a healthy lifestyle and the proper self and professional screening to further reduce your risk of developing hereditary cancers. This information can also help you catch cancer as early as possible.
One of the best ways to detect cancer early is to perform self-exams whenever possible. Self-exams are particularly helpful when it comes to breast cancer, testicular
and skin cancer. Self-exams are easy to do, can be done regularly, and can help you identify cancer early on. Because you’re familiar with your own body, you could catch something before a medical professional would regularly examine you. Research what to look for when you perform a self-exam and when you should call your doctor.
Know the Warning Signs
Check yourself when you can, but if you can’t perform a self-exam (on your lungs, for example) be familiar the general cancer warning signs to look out for, as they can indicate a number of different cancers. If you experience any of the following, see your doctor right away.
General Cancer Warning Signs
- Sores that won’t heal
- Unusual bleeding
- Changes in bladder or bowel function
- Constant indigestion or loss of appetite
- Pain that doesn’t get better or can’t be explained
- Skin changes
- Chronic cough or hoarseness
- Difficulty swallowing
Get Screened Regularly
Each kind of cancer has different screening recommendations from the American Cancer Society. Your recommendations may change slightly and timetables may be moved up depending on your risk factors and family history.
- Between the ages of 40 and 44, women can begin annual breast cancer screening. Women with a family history of breast cancer should start now.
- Women between the ages of 45 and 54 should get yearly mammograms
- Women over 55 can choose to continue to get mammograms yearly or every two years
Colon and Rectal Cancer
- Beginning at the age of 50, everyone should get a colonoscopy once every 10 years. There are alternatives to this, but if anything comes back positive, you’ll end up getting a colonoscopy anyway, so colonoscopies are preferable. Alternatives include:
- Get a CT colonography every 5 years
- Get a flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5 years
- Get a double-contrast barium enema every 5 years
- Get a stool DNA test every 3 years
- Get a yearly fecal immunochemical test or a yearly guaiac-based fecal occult blood test
- Beginning at the age of 21 and until 29, women should start getting tested for cervical cancer with a Pap every 3 years
- Between the ages of 30 and 65, women should be co-tested (includes a Pap test and HPV test) every 5 years
- Over 65, women who have had normal cervical cancer test results should no longer be tested
- If there is a history of serious cervical pre-cancer, testing should continue for 20 years after that diagnosis (even if it extends past 65)
- Women that have had total hysterectomies needn’t be tested unless there is a history of cervical cancer or pre-cancer
- When menopause occurs, women should be educated about the symptoms and risks of endometrial cancer
- After menopause, women should report unexpected vaginal bleeding to their doctor
- If there is a family history or past experiences with this type of cancer, women many need to consider a yearly endometrial biopsy
- People between the ages of 55 and 74 who are at a high risk of lung cancer due to a current or past heavy cigarette smoking habit should talk to their doctor about having a low-dose CT scan of the chest
- Beginning at age 50—or at age 45 for African American men and men whose fathers or brothers had prostate cancer before the age of 65—men should talk to their doctor about prostate cancer testing
- Men choosing to get tested should begin with a PSA blood test and rectal exam
Live a Healthy Lifestyle
Your lifestyle can have a significant impact on your health and your likelihood of developing cancer. Making healthy choices over the course of your life can reduce your risk. The following recommendations are good for your health no matter what, but especially when it comes to preventing cancer.
- Get plenty of regular exercise
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Always use sun protection
- Avoid all forms of tobacco
- Limit your alcohol consumption
- Eat a healthy diet high in vegetables and fruit
Remember, early detection is key to successful treatment of most cancers. Learn as much as you can about your family’s cancer history, stay educated on cancer screenings for your age and for cancers that run in your family. Learn how to examine yourself and when you should see a doctor. Finally, live a healthy lifestyle and make sure you follow guidelines for reducing your risk of any cancer. While we would all prefer a world without cancer like Padres Pedal the Cause is fighting for, risk reduction and early detection are still pretty great.