There are powerful reasons that to many, cancer is the dreaded Big C. Everyone knows someone fighting a battle with cancer or who has died from it.
While many diagnosed individuals live to tell their tale, there is that initial confrontation with mortality that can be hard to overcome. Fortunately, with the improvements in modern medicine, there are good cancer detection tests that should be part of routine screening.
1) Pap smear and HPV testing
The guidelines have recently changed for Pap tests as women. Women were asked to go yearly. But now those women over 30 years of age, in a monogamous relationship, who've never had an abnormal Pap can go every three years (Pap only) or every five years (Pap plus HPV test).4
This is a blanket recommendation. All women should discuss an individualized plan with their health care provider for testing for HPV which is the virus that causes cervical cancer.
Early detection of abnormal cells mean that conditions can often be easily treated before they ever even close to becoming cancer.
There are mixed reviews on mammograms because of the number of false positives, the emotional strife it takes on a woman called back for more imaging, and the extra radiation to the breasts.
It's important to understand that 90 percent of stage 1 breast cancer has a 5-year survival rate.
Some women believe that they will be able to feel a lump in their breast and can then get their mammogram at that time. But stage 1 breast cancer lumps can be as small as 0.2 millimeters. This is very, very tiny and not detectable through a breast exam, either by yourself or your doctor.
While mammograms are not perfect, they play a strong role in cancer prevention.
3) Fecal occult test
This simple at-home test determines whether or not there is blood in the stool not visible to the naked eye. This is important as blood in the stool could be a symptom of colorectal cancer.
The follow-up test is a colonoscopy where a very tiny camera is inserted rectally and moved through the colon, looking at the surrounding tissue to collect biopsies or remove polyps if needed.
Colorectal cancer is often overlooked and therefore diagnosed at a late stage. Do not avoid a colonoscopy out of fear. It is a critical part of cancer prevention and should be done at 50 years of age for screening.
4) Skin screening -
This is not technically a test. Still, having an expert view all of your odd cracks and crevices such as behind your ears, through your nails, between your shoulder blades, and across your scalp for odd lesions could prevent skin cancer.
Melanoma recieves the most press as it does have the more concerning outcomes with survival. However squamous and basal cell skin cancers are important to watch out for as well.
5. Chest X-ray -
If you are 55 years of age or older, and you have a 30-year history of smoking and currently smoke, talk with your health care provider about appropriate lung cancer screening.
And stop smoking. Please.
Make your health a priority. And make sure to discuss these cancer prevention tests with your doctor in order to determine a plan appropriate to you.
1) Breastcancer.org (2015). Stages of Breast Cancer.
2) Vatandoost, N., Ghanbari, J., Mojaver, M., Avan, A., Ghayour-Mobarhan, M., Nedaeinia, R., and Salehi, R. (2015). Early detection of colorectal cancer: from conventional methods to novel biomarkers. Retrieved from
3) Veo, C., Saad, S., Fregnani, J., Scapulatempo-Neto, C., Tsunoda, A., Resende, J., Lorenzi, A., Mafra, A., Cinti, C., Cotrim, I., Rosa, L., de Oliveira, C., Martins, T., Centrone, C., Levi, J., and Longatto-Filho, A. (2015). Clinical characteristics of women diagnosed with carcinoma who tested positive for cervical and anal high-risk human papillomavirus DNA and E6 RNA. Retrieved from
4) Cervical Cancer: Screening. U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. March 2012.
Retrieved February 23, 2015.
Reviewed February 23, 2015
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith