Cancer Screening: Can It Save My Life?

Cancer Screening: Can It Save My Life?

Cancer screening overview:

Cancer screening is most effective when the disease is found early. In the early stages however, cancer rarely causes symptoms, making it difficult to be found. Early diagnosis is helped tremendously through diligent cancer screening. The screening of older people is often different in terms of benefits and risks. Little advantage may be gained through detecting a slow-growing cancer that may not cause harm within an individual’s predicted life expectancy. Also, the procedures and additional tests and treatments may carry risks without benefits when the elderly utilize certain forms of cancer screening.

What are some of the cancer screening tests?

Screening tests vary depending upon the type of cancer being considered. Some simple cancer screening can be self administered or accomplished with the assistance of a family member if necessary. For example, a check for colon cancer may simply involve collecting small samples of stool on special cards, which are then sent to specialty health care practitioners, and analyzed for the presence of blood. Also, a woman may be able to detect breast cancer at an early stage by simply examining her breasts monthly (although regular examination by a doctor and mammography are also usually needed). Cancer screening for skin cancer is also helpful in detecting this disease early on. Because most people cannot really see the skin on their entire body, help from a family member or friend should probably be sought from time to time, as well as having a physician perform an annual total body examination.

Doctors usually recommend that older people undergo cancer screening for several types of cancer. For some cancers such as those of the colon and breast, screening has been proven to reduce the risk of dying. However, cancer screening is not equally effective for all cancers, and there has been some disagreement among experts about which people benefit most from the screening tests. For example, some experts agree that older men should have regular rectal examinations to test for prostate cancer and rectal cancer. However, the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test is somewhat controversial. The PSA level in the blood is elevated in men with prostate cancer, but also may increase in men with a non-cancerous condition called benign prostatic hyperplasia, and it may sometimes even be normal in men with prostate cancer. Moreover, cancer screening may not reduce the risk of older men dying for prostate cancer. Thus, PSA cancer screening is commonly not done in men whose life expectancy is less than 10 years (due to their age or the coexistence of other diseases).

Some information from The Merck Manual of Health of Aging

Additional information and web page by Paul Susic Ph.D. Licensed Psychologist (Health Psychology)

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