9 cancer screening tests women need to know about
Cancer screening tests are something most of us tend to procrastinate getting. They're not something we look forward to and it's easy to find reasons to delay them.
But putting them off is not a good idea. Getting tested is something we should all do regardless of the inconvenience, particularly for those of us with a family history of certain types of cancers.
1. Breast: A mammogram is an X-ray that detects cancerous lumps in the breast while they are still small and haven't spread to other parts of the body. It's done with a machine that presses the breast tissue flat to make an image of it. How often you should do this depends on age and family history.
2. Cervical: The cervix is a tubular structure that connects the vagina and the uterus. A Pap test looks for abnormal cells in the cervix by scraping off a little tissue that is then examined in a lab. It's relatively painless and women in their reproductive years need to be the most concerned about it.
3. Ovarian: There aren't regularly recommended screening tests for ovarian cancers, but there are ways to discover it early if it runs in your family. One option is a vaginal ultrasound test that can find masses in the ovaries, and another involves a blood test that looks for a certain protein, CA-125, which may be a strong indicator of the disease.
4. Uterine: Unfortunately, uterine cancers seem to happen twice as often in African-American women as they do in white or Asian women. Doctors don't know what causes it and it's relatively rare, but those who have had pelvic radiation therapy or a particular cancerous eye condition are more likely to get it. If it's suspected, a small uterine tissue sample can be taken and tested, or a tiny telescope can be inserted to look for problems.
5. Colorectal: Growths -- sometimes called polyps -- can form in the intestine, especially in older women, so certain tests are recommended, including a colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy, where a flexible tube with a lens is inserted through the rectum. The physician can observe any abnormal growths and remove them with the tool. Other tests check for tiny amounts of blood in the stool, another sign of a potential problem.
6. Genetic testing: A certain type of irregularity in a gene called BRCA can lead to breast or ovarian cancers in women. For women with this mutation, the risk is much greater than for women without it. The test is performed by taking blood or saliva samples and is recommended for women who have a family history of these issues.
7. HPV: Human papillomavirus, or "genital warts," is a group of sexually-transmitted viruses that can lead to certain types of cancers, including cervical cancer. However, many affected women don't even know they have it. Your doctor may recommend a test for HPV, generally done in the same manner and at the same time as a Pap test. There's also a vaccine for it.
8. Lung: Lung cancer is usually associated with environmental factors such as smoking or exposure to radon. If it's suspected, the doctor may take a sample of mucus you cough up or do a chest X-ray. If something unusual is found, additional imaging may be performed, or a tube inserted into your lung to examine abnormal masses called nodules.
9. Skin: At a physical exam, your doctor may offer to check your skin for anything unusual. While there are different types of skin cancers, many of them are quite visible if you know what to look for. Moles or spots that are uneven, change, have odd or irregular borders, are unusual in color, or are larger than a quarter-inch across may be cancerous and should be checked.
While screening tests are easy to put off, getting them as recommended by your physician will help you avoid having cancer become something you have to deal with daily.