Cancer is one of the most terrifying medical problems we face. Fortunately, many cancers can be treated successfully, or avoided entirely, through early screening. At Hilliard Family Medicine, we offer the following services aimed at early detection of cancerous and precancerous conditions.
· Pap tests look for cellular changes of the uterine cervix. Abnormal cells can be viewed under the microscope, and if appropriate, the samples can be tested for the Human Papillomavirus (HPV), which is the cause of warts and cervical cancers. Individuals (men or women) infected with the virus, which can be spread through sexual contact, are often unaware of the infection, since many patients have no outward sign or symptom. Women should get Pap tests annually, starting at age 18 or at first sexual activity. Some women can have Pap tests less often, if certain criteria are met, at the recommendation of your doctor.
· Flexible sigmoidoscopy, to detect colon polyps which may become cancer, or to detect the cancer itself. This is often combined with fecal occult blood testing, which looks for bleeding from the gastrointestinal tract that is not usually visible to the naked eye. In select situations, the flexible sigmoidoscopy may be combined with an air contrast barium enema (performed at a local X-ray facility or hospital) to examine that portion of the colon not visualized by the scope. Typically, men and women age 50 and older are advised to have colon cancer screening every 5-10 years (more frequently if polyps are found), accompanied by an annual rectal exam and fecal occult blood testing. Individuals with a family history of colorectal cancer should begin screening 10 years prior to the relative’s age at diagnosis. If certain symptoms exist or a family history of colon cancer is known, you may be asked to undergo a different form of colon examination performed by one of our local specialists. Your doctor can discuss the best screening options for you, based upon your individual risk factors.
· PSA blood testing, when used as a supplement to a physician’s examination, looks for elevations in a blood chemical unique to the prostate gland. When levels are abnormal for age, or change too rapidly, there is the suggestion of a prostate cancer. Caucasian men age 50 and older are advised to have this blood test annually, accompanied by a proper physical examination of the prostate. Men who are African-American, Hispanic, or Asian should begin screening at age 40. If there is a family history of prostate cancer, screening should begin 10 years prior to the relative’s age at diagnosis.
· Breast examinations are an invaluable tool in detecting changes to breast tissue that may be worrisome for cancer. Most breast lumps are not cancer, but those that are can often be detected during a careful exam. Women should get into the habit of performing monthly breast exams themselves at home, and having a physician’s exam annually. Your doctor can teach you the proper technique, and recommend the best time each month for you to do your exam (usually just after your period). Your doctor will also discuss mammograms with you, and the frequency with which these should be repeated. As a rule, women with a family history of breast cancer should begin screening at least 10 years prior to the relative’s age at diagnosis.
· Testicular examinations are also advised for all men. The technique for monthly self exams at home can be learned quickly, and your doctor will be happy to instruct you. Even teenagers should learn the exam, because testicular cancer is often seen in men during the late teens and early 20’s, as well as later in life. Like breast exams, an annual exam by your doctor is recommended. Bring any lumps you find to your doctor’s attention immediately.
· Mouth and skin cancers are increasingly more common as smoking persists and sun worship or tanning bed use endures. Ask your doctor to examine you for these problems at least once a year, and monitor yourself for changes to moles, or new sores on the tongue or elsewhere inside the mouth. Get anything you observe to be different examined promptly.