Detecting cancer early,
before it has had an opportunity to grow or spread, is a vital part of treating it effectively. This is why any comprehensive health maintenance plan should include regular cancer screening tests designed to detect various forms of cancer before any outward signs or symptoms are evident. In some cases, as with cervical and colon cancers, these tests may even be able to help prevent cancer from developing in the first place. Many of these screening tests can be performed conveniently as a part of your annual Well Woman Examination. The following is a list of the common cancer screening tests recommended for women by the American Cancer Society, as well as the ages at which these screenings should usually be performed.
Breast cancer is cancer that forms in the cells of the breast. It is the second leading cause of cancer death among women in the United States. One in eight women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. All types of cancer are easier to treat in early stages, so early detection is the best way to prevent cancer from spreading to other parts of the body. The American College of Obstetricians/Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends yearly screening mammograms for women aged 40 and over, yearly clinical breast exams (performed by a healthcare provider) for women aged 19 and over, and frequently performed self-breast exams which allows for breast self-awareness. During a well women exam at Gynecology Associates of Gwinnett, we will discuss your family history of breast cancer. If significant, this may lead to testing for the BRCA 1 and 2 gene mutations. These gene mutations considerably increase a women’s risk of breast cancer.
We will then perform a breast exam,
and if an abnormal lump is found, a diagnostic mammogram and ultrasound will be scheduled. Similarly, if an abnormality is found on screening mammogram, follow-up diagnostic testing will be arranged. Based on these findings, a biopsy may be needed. Appointments with a breast surgeon and oncologist will be necessary if a biopsy finds cancerous tissue. With early detection and early treatment, breast cancer can be beat. It is important to stay diligent in scheduling your annual exams and notifying us as soon as you suspect any unusual lumps or experience prolonged discomfort (not related to a pre-existing condition or the menstrual cycle).
The most recent recommendations from the American Cancer Society say that women should begin undergoing cervical cancer screenings in the form of a Pap smear at age 21 and at least every three years thereafter, however we strongly encourage that women undergo Pap testing annually in order to ensure that any abnormalities are caught as soon as possible. Some women over the age of 30 may consider having a Pap test completed every three to five years, if it is combined with testing for human papillomavirus, or HPV, while a woman with certain risk factors may require more frequent Pap smear testing.
Women should start screening for colon or rectal cancer beginning at age 50, or earlier if they have a family history or colon problems that raise their risk
Endometrial (Uterine) Cancer
Once a woman has undergone menopause, we recommend that they discuss with us the risks and symptoms of endometrial cancer, and we strongly encourage our patients to report any vaginal bleeding, discharge, or spotting so that these potential warning signs can be evaluated. Certain women may need to consider having a yearly endometrial biopsy, depending on their individual medical history.
Although there is no simple and reliable way to screen for ovarian cancer in women who do not have any symptoms, certain diagnostic tests, like a rectovaginal pelvic exam, a transvaginal ultrasound, or a CA-125 blood test may be able to detect it once certain warning signs have become evident. If you are experiencing abnormal vaginal bleeding, back pain or pain in the pelvic or abdominal area, frequent bloating, loss of appetite, or a change in your bathroom habits you should discuss with Dr. Gould whether diagnostic testing is necessary.
Any test that you need to undergo to detect
the presence of cancer can potentially cause some degree of anxiety and discomfort, but the majority of these screening procedures can be performed quickly and easily, without the need for invasive surgery or a stay in the hospital. In most cases, we perform cancer screenings in our office as a part of an annual Well Woman Examination, and you will always receive a full and comprehensive explanation of your results in a matter of days. It is important, however, to note that it is occasionally possible that you may receive a false-positive or false-negative result. This is why it is so important to follow up with your health care provider after undergoing any form of cancer screening and to adhere to a regular screening schedule as recommended by the American Cancer Association. That way tests may be repeated or proper procedures may be implemented as soon as possible.
Cancer Screening FAQs
Cervical cancer screening, which is commonly called a Pap test or Pap smear, is a quick and relatively simple medical procedure that involves taking a small sample of cells from the cervix for laboratory analysis. Patients lie on an exam table and a speculum is used to open the vagina, giving the physician a clear view of the cervix and upper vagina. Cells are then removed from the cervix with a brush or other sampling instrument and then placed into a special preservative liquid so that they can be sent to a laboratory for testing. There, the cells are examined to see if abnormal cells, which may be indicative of cervical cancer, are present. In some cases, these same cells can also be tested for the presence of the most common high-risk HPV types.