Screening is the key to catching cancer when it is most treatable


FDA Proposes Changes for Breast Cancer Screening

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has announced new steps to modernize breast cancer screening and help give patients more information when they are considering decisions about their breast health care.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has announced new steps to modernize breast cancer screening and help give patients more information when they are considering decisions about their breast health care.

According to Thurston County Death Certificates 2017, cancer is the leading cause of death in Thurston County.

Part of the treatment of any disease is to determine if someone has the disease. In general, the sooner a disease is discovered, the easier and more effective the treatment will be. This is where something called "screening" comes in.

In many cases, a person may have cancer for a long time before they begin to see symptoms that they say are sick. Screening is the process of testing someone for cancer (or another disease) before you have symptoms of the disease. Often, people considered to be at high risk for a specific type of cancer will be examined sooner or more often than others.

In fact, according to the Guide for Preventive Community Services, early detection can save lives and can also make a big difference in a person's long-term health and recovery.

However, 15% to 40% of those who are eligible for breast, cervix and colorectal cancer screenings are not current with their projections. About half of all colorectal and cervical cancers, and one-third of breast cancers, are not diagnosed until a late stage when they are more difficult to treat.

Looking at the 2016 Behavioral Risk Factors Survey, it is clear that further screening is needed in Thurston County:

  • 69 percent of Thurston County women 40 years of age or older have had a mammogram in the past two years.

  • 81 percent of Thurston County women aged 21-65 had a Pap smear in the past three years.

  • 72 percent of Thurston County residents aged 50-75 years were screened for colorectal cancer.

Some people may not be showing up because they do not have health insurance. In most cases, Medicare covers disease screening – as with most health plans, although it's always a good idea to call in advance to be sure.

Some groups of people, however, are less likely to be selected for reasons related to health disparities. In May, the Thurston County Public and Social Health Service joined the Community Action Council, a regional partnership led by the Fred Hutch Cancer Research Center in Seattle, to try to reduce cancer health disparities. Cancer is experienced differently in our region among people of color. In Thurston County, for example, American and African-American residents are more likely to die of cancer compared to other ethnic groups.

Health disparities are important to understand and address, and we know that all types of cancer are different. There are different risk groups for each, but in all cases, catching the disease earlier means a better chance of recovery. The best first step is to talk to your doctor to decide together which exams, if any, are right for you.

  • Breast Cancer: A mammogram (a breast x-ray) is used to track breast cancer. Women between the ages of 50 and 74 should have a mammogram every two years. Women who are at higher risk due to a strong history of breast cancer in the family may need to be screened more often or younger. In addition, it is a good idea that women are sufficiently familiar with their own breasts to be able to notice changes. Any concerns should be shared with your doctor.
  • Cervical Cancer: Screening for cervical cancer is done through a PAP test that looks for abnormal cells in the cervix. A different test can be used to track HPV (human papillomavirus) infection. HPV is believed to cause almost all cervical cancer. Women at medium risk should start taking PAPs when they are 21 years old. If the results are normal, you will only need to screen them every three years. If you are 30 years to 65 years old, you may need a PAP test and an HPV test. Talk to your doctor to determine which screening option is best for you and how often you will need to be screened.
  • Colorectal Cancer (Colon): Screening looks for polyps (growths) that can turn into cancer. There are several tests that can track colorectal cancer, so talk to your doctor about the test that is right for you. The US Preventive Services Task Force recommends that people between the ages of 50 and 75 be tested. Some health professionals recommend starting at age 45. A family history of colon cancer, or a history of inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis, among other issues, may increase your risk. So talk to your doctor about when to start screening.

Screening is an important tool to be at the forefront of potentially dangerous diseases. These diseases can be cured if they are detected early. There is no bad time to talk to your doctor about how crawling might seem to you. Most insurance, including Medicare, will cover the cost of screening and the value of knowing the key information about your health is invaluable.

Reach Dr. Rachel C. Wood, health officer for Thurston and Lewis Counties, at 360-867-2501, [email protected] or @ThurstonHealth on Twitter.


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