By – Dr. Raj Nagarkar, MD & Chief of Surgical Oncology & Robotic Services, HCG Manavata Cancer Centre
The start of the year is the time when many pen down their ambitious new year resolutions in which a healthy lifestyle is always mentioned. Consumers quickly plan to inculcate healthy eating habits, regular exercise and following modern practices like intermittent fasting, diet plans etc. But one critical aspect that is often overlooked is – Regular health screening.
Most consumers undergo basic yearly health checkups largely because it’s covered under the tax exemption, while a majority of consumers are rather indifferent about regular health checkups unless they feel some physical discomfort. But many health issues or concerns can be avoided or traced early via health check ups and screening, and the biggest threat we can trace is, cancer.
The process of identifying cancer before a person develops any symptoms is called cancer screening. Early detection of cancer or any abnormal tissue can help in early treatment as cancer may grow and spread if not detected early, making it more difficult to treat or cure. There are numerous cancer screenings available but here are some important ones to be done to ensure a healthier life:
Mammogram: This screening is an X-ray of the breast area and it helps to detect early signs of breast cancer. Medical study indicates that regular mammograms mitigate the risk of early death due to breast cancer and also provides signs to other anomalies occurring in the breast, which could create potential health concerns
Pap Test This test is to test for cervical cancer. They collect cells and mucus from the cervix and surrounding area, which is then lab tested for abnormal cells that could turn into cervical cancer
PSA: This screening is a blood test to detect prostate cancer in men. It is typically only performed on men at high risk for prostate cancer, and it’s often done along with a rectal exam
Colonoscopy: This test is where a thin tube with a camera on the end is used to look inside the colon. They detect abnormal growths (called polyps) which have the risk of developing into colon cancer. A colonoscopy examines the entire colon, while there is a process called sigmoidoscopy which looks at the left side only
Fecal Occult Blood Test: This screening is to check for blood in the stool, which may indicate polyps or high risk to colon cancer
CT Scan: A low-dose CT scan is used to screen for lung cancer and it involves using an X-ray machine to scan the body and provide images of your lungs
Skin Exam: This screening is of the skin to look for suspicious spots or changes appearing on your skin, as that potentially could indicate skin cancer
Alpha-Fetoprotein This screening is a blood test used to detect liver cancer and is performed along with an ultrasound
The frequency of these screening and the timeline to do it depends a lot on your body, genetic factors, lifestyle choices etc. Medical journals do give some recommendations on the timeline of cancer screening tests which more less is accurate to follow. Here are some timelines:
Women aged 40 to 44 should do annual mammograms. Post 50, women can continue yearly mammograms or have them every other year but regular screening should continue as long as a woman is in good health. Those at high risk for the disease should be extra careful and also add may a breast MRI along with standard mammograms
Colon and Rectal Cancer screening must be by the age of 50. One can also start a few years early depending on their physical condition and medical history. Colonoscopy is typically performed every 10 years for most healthy people, but there are various other screenings one can do, basis expert medical advice
Cervical Cancer screening is advised for post 21 years age, not before that. Women between ages 21 and 29 should have a Pap test every three years, while for ages 30 to 65 should have a Pap and HPV test every five years or a Pap only every three years. Women over age 65 who had regular screenings and normal results no longer have to be screened for cervical cancer.
Prostate Cancer screening should start at age 50 for men. If you have a family history of cancer or physical health indicators, then preferably start few years early screening
Lung Cancer: Regular health check should help you keep lunch cancer at bay. But if you have smoking habits or a history of cancer in your family, then do a CT scan especially if you are in the age group of 55 to 74.
Screening for cancer before you develop symptoms is a good way to prevent them or treat them early. But these screening tests need consultation and recommendation from the doctor, because some of the screening also have small side effects. So an informed decision needs to be made based on the medical and personal history and the pros & cons of the screening test.