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Cancer Screening Tests Every Woman Should Get

As you write up your health to-do list this year, don't forget to ask your doctor which cancer screening tests you need and when to have them. They can help you catch the disease early, when it's easier to treat.

Breast Cancer

A screening test can often find this type of cancer when a lump is too small for you to feel, and before the disease has spread to other parts of your body.

Mammogram

This is the main way doctors check for breast cancer. It uses X-rays to create pictures of the inside of your breasts.

A 3-D mammogram takes several pictures so your doctor can see images from different angles.

A technician will place one breast at a time on a special platform. Then a clear plastic paddle will press down on your breast to spread it out. This is done to make sure the X-ray gets all your tissue in the picture. You may need to change positions so the technician can take pictures from different views. You'll have to hold your breath for a couple of seconds.

Breast self-exams

Most health groups don't recommend that women do these. Yet it can't hurt to be familiar with your breasts, so you'll know if you have any new lumps or growths.

Who should get tested and how often?Sometimes mammograms can find something that isn't cancer, which might cause women to get more tests or even treatment they didn't really need. This risk is one reason why different groups have their own recommendations on breast cancer screening.

  • The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) says women ages 50 to 74 should have mammograms every other year.
  • The American Cancer Society says women ages 45 to 54 should have it done once a year, while those 55 or older should get them every 2 years.

If you're at a higher risk for breast cancer because of a family history or other reasons, talk to your doctor. You might need to get mammograms earlier and more often than these guidelines recommend. You may also need to add other screening tests, such as an MRI.

Lung Cancer

It's the deadliest cancer in women, and it's no secret that smoking is the major cause. So, if you're a regular tobacco user, you may want to talk with your doctor about getting a screening test.

Doctors check for lung cancer with a low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) scan. It uses X-rays to make pictures of your lungs.

It's an easy procedure. You lie on your back and raise your arms over your head as the table moves through the scanner. You hold your breath for 5 to 10 seconds while it's done.

Get an LDCT scan once a year if all of these are true for you:

  • You're 55 to 80 years old.
  • You smoke now, or you quit within the past 15 years.
  • You smoked one pack a day for 30 years or an amount equal to it, such as two packs a day for 15 years.

Colorectal Cancer

It's the third-most-common cancer in women. The disease usually starts with growths called polyps in your colon, a part of your digestive system. Screening tests can find them before they turn into cancer.

Your doctor might recommend one of these tests, or a combination:

Colonoscopy

Your doctor will check your entire colon and rectum with a flexible tube with a camera on the end. There's some prep you need to do. A day or so before it's done, you'll only be allowed to drink liquids, and you'll take a laxative to clean out your colon.

You don't have to worry about feeling any pain during the procedure, which takes about 30 minutes. You won't be awake while it's going on, because you'll get medicine called anesthesia. Your doctor will not only be able to spot any polyps, but he often can remove them and send them to a lab to get checked for signs of cancer.

Flexible sigmoidoscopy. It's a lot likea colonoscopy, but not quite as thorough. Your doctor can only check part of your colon. On the positive side, you don't have to do as much prep, and you usually don't need anesthesia. This test takes about 20 minutes.

High-sensitivity fecal occult blood tests (FOBT). It looks for small amounts of blood in your bowel movements. It's a useful way to check for cancers in the colon and rectum, which sometimes bleed.

For this test, you use a special kit that lets you collect a small amount of your poop. Lab technicians will check it to see if there are any signs of blood. You may have to avoid certain foods and medicines beforehand so it doesn't mess up the test results.

You should get a colorectal cancer screening test if you're between 50 to 75 years old. You may need to get it earlier if you're at high risk for colorectal cancer.

If you're between 75 and 86, ask your doctor about your risks and whether it's important for you to get it.

How often you should get tested depends on which exams you get. The USPSTF recommends you do one of these options:

  • Colonoscopy once every 10 years
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5 years, plus FOBT every 3 years
  • FOBT every year

Cervical Cancer

It starts in cells that line the cervix, the lower part of your uterus. They can turn into cancer slowly over time. Your doctor can often spot these changing cells before they cause trouble with one of these tests:

Pap test

It finds abnormal cells in the cervix. You lie on a table with your feet in stirrups. Your doctor puts a tool called a speculum into your vagina to widen it enough to see your cervix.

Your doctor then uses a special scraper or brush to remove a sample of cells. You might feel a little discomfort. The cells go to a lab, which tests them for cancer.

Human papillomavirus (HPV) test. It's often done along with the Pap test. It checks to see if you're infected with the HPV virus, which causes most cases of cervical cancer. The same cells collected for the Pap test are used to check for HPV.

Follow these guidelines on when to get tested:

  • Get a Pap test every 3 years if you're 21 to 65 years old.
  • If you're 30 to 65, you have the option to get both a Pap and HPV test every 5 years.

Skin Cancer

The USPSTF doesn't recommend for or against skin exams, but the American Cancer Society says regular checks by your doctor are a good way to find skin cancers early.

Your doctor will look for any moles or other growths on your skin that might be cancer. You can also check your skin yourself at least once a month to see if there are any changes.

Ask your doctor about your risk for skin cancer. You may want to get regular skin exams if you've had the disease in the past or if you have family members who've had it.

Source : www.webmd.com/cancer