Cancer Prevention: How to Screen for Different Types of Cancer
Cancer is a disease in which certain cells in your body grow and spread uncontrollably. It can start in almost any tissue or organ, and even in your bones or blood. Cancers that originate in different parts of the body often develop and respond to treatments in very different ways. In fact, there are more than 100 different types of cancer.
Descriptions of cancer date back to ancient Egypt and Greece — however researchers have learned more about the disease in the past twenty years than they have in all the previous centuries combined. While there is still no surefire way to prevent or cure cancer with absolute certainty, modern medicine has developed screening methods that can catch cancer in its earliest, most treatable stages.
Most cancers develop due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Certain triggers, like inflammation, have been shown to increase the risk of many types of cancers. Quitting smoking and excessive alcohol use and eating a healthy diet are often cited as the top ways to prevent cancer, as doing these things also minimize inflammation. While eating specific foods or taking vitamins won't necessarily prevent cancer, paying attention to what you eat and staying fit can decrease your overall risk for disease.
Living a healthy lifestyle can decrease some of the environmental risks of cancer, but certain types of screening and regular diagnostic tests for cancer can help doctors find abnormalities in your body before the disease progresses to a late, untreatable stage.
Skin cancer prevention largely depends on how well you protect yourself from the sun. While ultraviolet (UV) rays are necessary for vitamin D production, overexposure can lead to health concerns, including skin cancer.
Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the U.S. It is also one of the most preventable cancers! Here are some guidelines for protecting yourself against skin cancer:
- Avoid spending time in the direct sun, especially between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., when the sun’s rays are the strongest
- Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen every time you go outside, with an SPF of 15 or higher
- Wear clothes that keep your arms and legs covered, and protect your eyes and face with sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat
- Keep an eye on moles and skin changes, and schedule annual checkups with a dermatologist
Unlike skin cancer, there aren’t any guidelines for prostate cancer prevention. In general, a healthy diet is part of cancer prevention, as it can reduce inflammation and boost the immune system. Lab tests, like a Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) Blood Test, are recommended for prostate cancer screening. This test is included in a Comprehensive Male Panel, which screens for common cancers as well as cholesterol, diabetes, and heart health.
A mammogram, which is an X-ray image of the breast, is the most effective way to screen and diagnose breast cancers. Yearly mammograms are recommended for most women over age 40. Early detection is the primary prevention for breast cancer, as genetic components often influence breast cancer more than environmental factors. While there are no particular exercises or foods specifically for breast cancer prevention, maintaining an overall healthy lifestyle has been shown to reduce the risk of breast and many other cancers.
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Most doctors agree that a diet low in animal fats and high in healthy grains aids in the prevention of colon cancer. However, the most effective way to prevent colon cancer from reaching a dangerous stage is to screen early and often. As uncomfortable as they are, annual colonoscopies are recommended for people between the ages of 45 and 75 to screen for colon or colorectal cancer.
Quitting smoking, avoiding alcohol, and eating a healthy diet have been shown to help prevent pancreatic cancer. The best foods for cancer prevention are whole grains, vegetables, and fruits. Common risk factors for pancreatic cancer include:
- Family history of pancreatic cancer
Quitting smoking is the single most important thing you can do for the prevention of lung cancer. Smoking cigarettes is linked to 80-90% of lung cancer deaths. If you or your doctor think you may be experiencing symptoms of lung cancer, such as a persistent cough, shortness of breath, and/or coughing up blood, your provider may recommend diagnostic imaging. A chest X-ray is usually the first step in reaching a lung cancer diagnosis.
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Regular screenings, including pap smears, are the most effective methods of cervical cancer prevention. Vaccines that protect against human papillomavirus (HPV) and regular screening for HPV can prevent cervical cancer, as well as limiting your number of sexual partners, avoiding sex with people who have genital warts or other symptoms, and quitting smoking.
Ovarian cancers are largely dictated by a mutation on the BRCA gene. While it is possible for any woman to get ovarian cancer, individuals with these genetic mutations carry an increased risk. Pelvic exams are the most frequently used screening method for this type of cancer. If results from your pelvic exam come back as “abnormal,” your provider may order a transvaginal ultrasound (TVUS), a CA-125 blood test or a Comprehensive Female Panel for further analysis.
Testicular cancer is a relatively rare yet treatable cancer, that generally has a good prognosis when found in its early states. Primary prevention of testicular cancer revolves around regualr screening — men with a father or brother who have been diagnosed with testicular cancer are at an increased risk of being diagnosed with it themselves. Prevention begins with regular self-exams, to monitor any physical changes in the testicles. Report any swelling, pain, or lumps to your provider, who may recommend diagnostic imaging to further assess the changes.
What is a primary prevention for cancer?
Primary prevention refers to directly avoiding things that are known to cause cancer, like cigarette smoke, asbestos, and too much sun. Primary preventions focus on creating an environment in which cancer is least likely to be able to thrive.
Which diagnostic techniques are used to detect cancer?
Diagnostic imaging, such as X-rays, CT scans, mammograms, and MRIs are all used to detect and diagnose certain types of cancers. Laboratory tests, which rely on the collection of blood or urine, are also used to screen for certain types of cancers.
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