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Cancer Care Makes More Progress

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Certainly, there still is cause for concern, Young says. "Cancer continues to take a terrible toll on the American people ... Estimates indicate that sometime within the next 10 to 15 years, cancer will overtake [heart disease] and become the most-common cause of death in the U.S."

He also points out that with the aging population in the U.S., the actual number of deaths from cancer is likely to continue to increase.

But overall, we are winning the war on cancer, Young writes. For any given age, he predicts we will continue to see a fall in deaths from cancer.

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.

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