The Power of Early Detection: Key Cancer Screenings That Can Save Lives

~Authored by Sachin Trivedi, Director: Medical Oncology, HCG-ICS Khubchandani Cancer Centre, Mumbai~

Early detection plays a pivotal role in enhancing the effectiveness of cancer therapy. The process of early cancer detection consists of two parts: screening and early diagnosis. Early diagnosis focuses on identifying patients who display symptoms at the earliest possible stage, while screening aims to identify cancer patients who have not exhibited any signs, particularly for breast, lung, colorectal, and cervical cancers. Timely detection and treatment are vital in combating these types of cancers.

In the fast-paced world we live in today, coupled with our sedentary lifestyles, individuals must undergo regular screenings. Listed below are some of the screenings that are essential and should be done annually or as advised by medical professionals.

Mammography for Breast Cancer: Breast cancer is one of the most common types of cancer in women. Regular mammography plays a vital role in breast cancer screening. It is a widely used method for early detection, involving an X-ray examination of the breast tissue. Identifying breast cancer before any signs or symptoms like lumps or microcalcifications appear, significantly enhances the chances of successful treatment and enables early intervention. Annual mammography screening should commence at the age of 40 following a thorough consultation with a physician.

Pap Smears for Cervical Cancer: A Pap smear, also known as a Pap test, is a procedure utilized to screen for cervical cancer in women. During a Pap smear, cells are collected from the cervix, the lower portion of the uterus located at the top of the vagina. Early detection of cervical cancer through a Pap smear significantly increases the likelihood of successful treatment. Additionally, a Pap smear can identify changes in cervical cells indicative of potential future cancer development. Identifying these abnormal cells early through a Pap smear is crucial in preventing the progression of cervical cancer. The recommended age for undergoing a pap smear test is 21. If the initial test results are negative, it is advisable to schedule another test after a three-year interval till the age of 29. Post that women can also do combined Pap and HPV tests every 5 years.

Colonoscopy for Colorectal Cancer: Colorectal cancer is increasingly prevalent in India, underscoring the importance of screenings such as colonoscopy. Regular screening plays a crucial role in the prevention of colorectal cancer. In a colonoscopy procedure, a physician utilizes a lengthy and flexible tube that is equipped with a video camera and monitor to thoroughly examine the colon and rectum. Tissue samples may be collected, and surgical tools can be employed through the tube to remove polyps. Finding and preventing colorectal cancer early on requires routine screening, which starts around the age of 45.

PSA (Prostate-specific antigen) Test for Prostate Cancer: Cancer screening involves the PSA test, which aims to detect signs of prostate cancer. This test measures the level of PSA present in the blood. PSA is a substance produced by the prostate gland. Elevated PSA levels in the blood may suggest the presence of prostate cancer, as well as other prostate-related conditions. The ideal age group for men is 45 to 50 to start tests for PSA levels.

Lung Cancer Screening with Low-Dose CT Scan: Lung cancer screening aims to detect lung cancer in individuals who are at high risk but do not show any symptoms. This screening is specifically recommended for older adults who have a history of long-term smoking. Medical experts employ a low-dose computerized tomography (LDCT) scan of the lungs to identify lung cancer. Identifying lung cancer at an early stage increases the chances of successful treatment and potential cure. Elderly over 50 to 55 years of age should start doing the screening every year.

It’s crucial to acknowledge that these tests might differ depending on individual risk factors, including age, family history, and lifestyle choices. Seeking guidance from a healthcare professional is recommended for tailored recommendations and a discussion regarding the advantages and disadvantages of each test. Additionally, early detection can minimize the necessity for more aggressive and invasive treatments, like surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.

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