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Cancer Care Makes More Progress

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An important note is that these cancer numbers do not include basal or squamous skin cancers, which on their own account for over a million new cases every year. These cancers are not fatal but can be disfiguring if not treated.

And there is plenty you can do to make sure you stay on guard. Although there is some disagreement on the best route for preventing and finding cancer early, the American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends the following cancer check-ups to continue our fight against this killer:

Breast Cancer

  • Monthly self-breast exams beginning at age 20;
  • Between age 20 and 39, women should have a breast exam by a doctor every three years;
  • Beginning at 40, women should have a yearly mammogram and breast exam by a doctor.

Note: The Canadian Task Force has concluded that breast self-exam is of no benefit and may be harmful to women. The ACS will take these findings into consideration in their upcoming update of their guidelines.

Cervical Cancer

  • Yearly Pap smears should begin at age 18 or earlier if sexually active;
  • After three yearly normal Pap smears, testing can be done less frequently at the discretion of the doctor.
  • The ACS recommends regular Pap smears throughout life.

Hopefully, guidelines in 2003 will answer the question about Pap smears in women who have had a hysterectomy.

Colorectal Cancer

If at average risk, beginning at age 50, you should have one of the following five options:

  1. Yearly stool test for blood called "fecal occult blood test," or FOBT;
  2. Flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years;
  3. Yearly FOBT plus flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years;
  4. Double contrast barium enema every five years;
  5. Colonoscopy every 10 years. The ACS recommends the combination of FOBT with sigmoidoscopy rather than either one alone.

Uterine Cancer

The ACS does not recommend any check-ups for uterine cancer unless a woman has symptoms, usually bleeding after menopause.

Prostate Cancer

  • Yearly prostate-specific-antigen blood test, or PSA, and digital rectal exam (finger exam by a doctor) beginning at age 50.
  • Men at high risk, including blacks and men with a father or brother who had prostate cancer before age 50, should begin testing at 45.
  • If multiple family members have had prostate cancer, testing could begin at 40.

Lung Cancer

The ACS does not recommend any testing for early lung cancer detection. They do say, however, that testing can be done if a doctor and patient decide to do so. There is no confirmed good test for lung cancer. But spiral CT has looked promising in several studies, although the true benefit of this test has not been proven.

Cancer-Related Check-Up

  • Your doctor also can examine you for signs of other cancers that affect the thyroid, testicles, ovaries, lymph nodes, mouth, and skin. Also, you can talk to your doctor about how you can do self-exams of your skin, as well as breasts in women and testicles in young men.
  • The ACS recommends a cancer-related check-up every three years for people 20 to 39 and every year for men and women beginning at 40.

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