October is the month reserved for raising awareness and celebrating women who have battled and continue to fight breast cancer, but cancer of the lungs, colon, and cervix should also be on women’s checklist for screenings.
Carroll Health Group primary care physician Dr. Jessica Medani sees patients at the Mount Airy Health & Wellness Pavilion. Part of her job involves educating patients about the steps they can take to prevent disease and illness, such as through cancer screenings.
“I think it’s important to have a conversation with your primary care doctor at your annual physical about what we can do to prevent cancer and screen for cancer," Medani said.
The four main types of cancer Medani encourages women to be aware of are breast, cervical, lung, and colorectal.
HPV vaccine prevents cancer
The human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine serves to protect young women — and men — from a variety of cancers, Medani said.
“Cervical is not one of the top causes of mortality in women but it’s one of the top cancers we can screen for," Medani said.
HPV is a collection of more than 200 different viruses and the vaccine covers nine of the most common, according to Medani. With just one vaccine, physicians can prevent 90% of cervical and anal cancers and genital warts, Medani said.
“It’s been shown to be very effective and very well-tolerated with few side effects," she said.
Physicians begin administering the HPV vaccine around age 11 or 12 and continue until age 26, according to Medani. Until recently, men only received the HPV vaccine until age 21, but medical guidelines recently changed so that men are receiving the vaccine until the same age as women, Medani said.
“We want to protect men against anal cancer," Medani said. "It also causes penile cancers, and genital warts, and then not only the men, but we want to protect the women, too. And it’s a sexually transmitted infection so by immunizing both sexes we can hopefully protect everybody.”
The pap smear test women typically undergo during a visit to the gynecologist also screens for cervical cancer. Average risk women are tested every three years starting at age 21 until 30, when they should be tested every five years, Medani said.
When people should be screened for cancers is affected by their symptoms and personal and family history, according to Medani. Those who are higher at-risk may need to be screened more frequently, Medani said, but there are recommendations for the average person.
Age for screenings
Most women Medani has met through work are aware that physicians recommend mammograms to screen for breast cancer starting at age 40, she said. The conversation should start with your doctor at age 40 and, at the very least, women need to be screened at age 50, Medani said.
Someone with the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene has a higher risk for developing breast cancer and may need to be screened earlier, according to Medani. Signs that should prompt a person to be screened for breast cancer also include abnormalities such as a lump or discharge, Medani said.
“Without a family history, or one of these genetic conditions we normally do not recommend early screening," Medani said.
Typically, women should be screened every one to two years for breast cancer after age 40, she said.
With breast cancer being fairly common, Medani has seen women suffer much anxiety over screenings. A mammogram may reveal something in the breast that is benign and women sometimes request further tests to err on the side of caution, according to Medani.
Younger women also have very dense breast tissue, which can make it more difficult to see abnormalities through screening, Medani said.
As for colorectal cancer, Medani said a colonoscopy is the best screening option.
For average-risk patients, Medani recommends a colonoscopy at age 50 and then every 10 years after that, usually until about age 75.
The purpose of a colonoscopy is to look for polyps that could be pre-cancerous, according to Medani.
While a colonoscopy is not known for being a pleasant experience, there are alternatives such as the Cologuard screening, which requires a stool sample, she said.
“The trouble is that if it’s positive, then you need a colonoscopy anyway, so the colonoscopy is really the gold standard," Medani said.
One screening people may not be as aware of is for lung cancer.
Men and women who have a history of heavy smoking and are currently smoking, or have quit within the last 15 years, may want to undergo a low-dose computerized tomography (CT) scan at age 55, Medani said. Lose-dose refers to a lower dose of radiation, she said.
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Those interested in general health screenings may be interested in Carroll Hospital’s upcoming Total Health Expo Oct. 26. In addition to family activities, there will be free health screenings for balance, blood pressure, body fat analysis, oral/dental health, pre-diabetes/diabetes, pulmonary, and more. The event runs from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Tevis Center for Wellness. For more information, visit carrollhospitalcenter.org/HealthExpo or call 410-871-7000.