Regular preventative cancer screenings save lives and is one of the best ways to take care of your health.

December 03, 2021
Doctor reassuring Vietnamese woman

When it comes to fighting cancer, early detection is key. Survival rates for all types of cancer are significantly improved when the cancer is detected early, before a tumor grows and spreads.  Putting off screening can result in cancer being detected at higher stages — after it’s already spread.

“We use a staging system to categorize tumors in terms of their size and spread in the body. The larger the number, the more the cancer has spread,” explains Fran Holcomb, BSN, RN, OCN, Cancer Education & Outreach Nurse with the Riverside Cancer Care Network. “While a Stage I cancer is relatively small and contained, a Stage IV cancer is one that has spread widely throughout the body."

Disruptions to routine screening

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people have been delaying their usual, routine cancer screenings. Experts fear this delay may cause some cancers to go undetected and untreated until they’ve reached late stages.

For example, the CDC reported a greater than 80% drop in the number of patients who were screened for breast cancer and ovarian cancer in April 2020, compared with the previous five- year averages for that month.

Other studies have noted a drastic reduction in the number of patients seeking routine colonoscopies, lung cancer screens and other cancer diagnostic tests during the pandemic.

“We want patients to understand that putting off cancer screening is not a good idea,” says Fran Holcomb. “When cancer reaches a late stage, it’s much more difficult to treat. Staying on top of routine screens is the best way to ensure early cancer detection and successful recovery.”

Recommended cancer screenings

Riverside Health System recommends the following cancer screening guidelines. Note that you may need to be screened for particular cancers earlier or more often due to your individual family history or other risk factors, as recommended by your provider.

Breast Cancer

  • Annual breast cancer screening mammograms for women ages 40 and older. 
  • If you have a family history of breast cancer, talk with your provider about the age to begin screening.

Colon and Rectal Cancer

  • Beginning at age 45, women and men should have a colonoscopy  to screen for signs of colon and rectal cancer. A follow-up colonoscopy should be conducted once every 10 years afterward unless your physician recommends otherwise.
  • If you have a family history of colon or rectal cancer, talk with your provider about the age to begin screening.  If you have a first degree relative (father, mother, sister or brother) that was diagnosed with colorectal cancer, you should be screened 10 years before the age they were diagnosed.  For example, if you mother was diagnosed at age 42 you should be screened beginning age 32.

Cervical Cancer

  • Women ages 25 through 65 should get a Pap Smear  to screen for cervical cancer once every three years without HPV co-testing, or every five years with HPV co-testing.
  • Women over age 65 with a history of abnormal Pap Smears or other abnormal cervical conditions should talk with her provider about the recommended screening interval.

Lung Cancer

Individuals at high risk for lung cancer should get yearly lung cancer screening  using a low-dose CT scan. At-risk groups include women and men who:

  • Are between 50 and 80 years old
  • Smoked an average of one pack a day for 20 years AND currently smoke or are a former smoker that has quit less than 15 years ago
  • Have other risk factors for lung cancer

Prostate Cancer

The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends men talk with their provider to discuss the risks and potential benefits of prostate cancer screening . The timing of when to have the conversation around if screening is right for you depends on each patient’s personal risk factors:

  • Age 50 for men who are at average risk of prostate cancer and are expected to live at least 10 more years.
  • Age 45 for men at high risk of developing prostate cancer. This includes African Americans and men who have a first-degree relative (father or brother) diagnosed with prostate cancer at an early age (younger than age 65).
  • Age 40 for men at even higher risk (those with more than one first-degree relative who had prostate cancer at an early age).

Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is the most common cancer.  Types of skin cancer include basal cell carcinoma, melanoma and other skin cancers.  When identified early, almost all skin cancers can be cured with treatment.

Knowing what to look for is as easy as A,B,C,D,E:

  • A – Asymmetry: One half is unlike the other half
  • B – Borders: Irregular or poorly defined border
  • C – Color: Varied from one area to another (shades of tan or brown, black, red, white, or blue)
  • D – Diameter: Diameter greater than 6mm
  • E – Evolution: Changing in size, color or shape

If you notice any of these signs or have an area of skin that is constantly itching, breaking open, or has trouble healing, it is time to have it evaluated by a provider .

Screening is key to early detection

The American Cancer Society estimates that cancer screenings – and early cancer detection – have helped save hundreds of thousands of lives.
But early detection is only possible when patients actually take advantage of available screening.

“It’s essential that patients not put off scheduling their recommended cancer screening appointments,” Fran Holcomb says. “Early detection is our best weapon in fighting cancer successfully.”

If you are uninsured, unable to qualify for Medicaid or Medicare and unable to afford your preventative cancer screenings, please contact our Cancer Outreach Office for assistance at 1-800-520-7006. 

Remember that hospitals, screening centers and physician offices all follow strict CDC safety plans to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission among patients and staff. These include stringent cleaning guidelines, social distancing, mask wearing protocols and other protective steps. As a result, you can feel safe seeking recommended cancer screening, even as the pandemic continues. 

Talk to your primary care physician or appropriate specialist about what cancer screenings are appropriate for you. And schedule an appointment to get caught up on your cancer screenings today.

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