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Published on June 02, 2020

closeup of man holding cancer prevention sign

Screening Exams for Cancer Can Save Your Life

Timing is a big part of our lives – including recommended cancer screenings. If you have put off a screening like a mammogram or colonoscopy due to COVID-19, now’s the time to reschedule.

Health care facilities and staff are taking extra measures to ensure the safety of the care environment.

“Many cancers can be treated – or cured – if detected in a timely manner,” said Chad Thury, DO, a family physician at Avera Medical Group Family Health Center and chair of the Avera Primary Care Service Line’s Best Practices Committee. “Primary care providers can help navigate the often-confusing assortment of cancer screening guidelines. They can help you ensure that those important tests get scheduled when the time is right.”

Following the Guidelines and Talking About Them

It is important to note that cancer screening guidelines provide recommendations for average-risk patients. Factors such as a family history of cancer, ethnicity or inherited genetic diseases can place people into higher-risk categories. So some screening recommendations will vary.

“No two patients are alike, so it’s always good to consult with your provider on all screening tests, to make sure the schedule for yours is best suited to your history and risk factors,” Thury said. “For example, men should discuss with their providers the best approach and timing for prostate screening. Recommendations can vary based off of the specific clinical situation. For average risk men, I’d recommend having that conversation when you turn 55, but for men at higher risk they would want to have the conversation at age 45.”

Two key screening exams for women can help detect cervical and breast cancer. Women ages 21-30 should have a Pap test every three years, and those ages 30-65 should have the same Pap test plus an HPV test every five years. Women who had normal Pap tests for 10 years can stop having them at age 65. Women should also have annual mammograms starting at age 40.

Understanding the Timing and Remembering to Get it Scheduled

Lung screenings are recommended for people with a history of smoking who are between ages 50 and 80, and if certain conditions are met. You should also screen for skin cancer once a year with your provider.

“For colorectal health, we recommend a colonoscopy, which is the gold standard for detection of this cancer, to begin at age 45,” Thury said. “After that, men and women should have follow-up exams until they reach age 75. Some patients may have more frequent colonoscopies depending on the findings of the exam.”

For patients that refuse or cannot do a colonoscopy, there are various stool based tests to screen for colon cancer available as well.

A surefire way to start the cancer-screening process properly is by selecting a primary care provider and developing a relationship.

“Like patients, no two providers are exactly the same, and the relationship between patient and provider is an important thing to develop. It can set you up for better health over the course of your lifetime,” said Thury. “Do a little research online or talk to people you trust about their providers. Don’t be afraid to see a second or third one if you don’t feel a connection with the first. We understand – we just want you to see a provider, on a regular basis and keep your screenings on schedule.”

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