A screening can save your life

Published 11:59 am Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Cancer. It’s a word that scares the daylight out of our very being, and there’s good reason for this fear. The American Cancer Society estimates that 609,360 Americans will die from cancer in 2023. Only heart disease outpaces cancer as the leading cause of death in the U.S. 


Cancer has touched the lives of nearly everyone that we know. With high death rates, the battle to beat this disease seems out of reach. But according to the CDC, cancer deaths have dropped twenty-seven percent since 2001. This drop is a significant decrease! I recently spoke to Dr. Joe Stephenson, the Director of St. Luke’s Cancer & Infusion Center. Dr. Stephenson states, “a momentous contributing factor to the decrease has been our ability to detect cancer earlier.” He continued, “regular screening helps find certain cancers early when they are most treatable, and this leads to more successful outcomes.”

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Cancer screening refers to exams and tests to find cancer in asymptomatic people. Early detection means diagnosing cancer much earlier than if a person would wait for symptoms to occur. I’ve listed below the screening tests recommended by the American Cancer Society so you can talk with your healthcare provider about screenings appropriate for you.


FAMILY HISTORY: Understanding your genetic risks for cancer is an essential first step. Some cancers are hereditary, making it more likely to develop cancer in some people than others. Genetic testing can find changes in genes or chromosomes that may cause cancer. Using family history, your doctor can personalize a plan for you. For example, it may include more regular screenings or specific lifestyle recommendations to help prevent cancer.


BREAST CANCER SCREENING: Your doctor can recommend screenings based on family history and other risk factors. Mammograms, for example, are recommended every 1 to 2 years beginning at age 40 or earlier if you’re high risk. And at St. Luke’s, we offer world-class 3D mammography.


LUNG CANCER SCREENING: If you’re fifty years old, consider screening for lung cancer if you’ve smoked 20 packs of cigarettes per year within the last 15 years. At St. Luke’s, we will soon offer preventative low-dose lung cancer screenings for at-risk patients before symptoms appear. In addition, our new Revolution Apex will provide the greatest opportunity for early detection.


CERVICAL CANCER SCREENING: Your primary care provider or gynecologist will use a Pap smear or an HPV test to screen for cervical cancer. Women should begin Pap smears at 21 years and follow up every three years, and for an HPV test every five years. If you have a high-risk medical history, consider increasing testing frequently.


PROSTATE CANCER SCREENING: Men at higher risk should begin screening tests at 45 of age. Ask your provider about having a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test. A PSA test is a simple blood test that screens for prostate cancer.


COLON CANCER SCREENING: The American Cancer Society recommends colon or colorectal cancer screenings to begin at age forty-five — earlier if you’re high risk. We recommend colonoscopies every ten years until you’re at least 75 and more frequently if you’ve had a positive test. 


SKIN CANCER SCREENING: Your provider will let you know how often you should schedule a full-body skin screening. People with more moles, blue eyes, red hair, and fair skin may need more periodic checks. In addition, your family history of skin cancer may affect your screening regularity.


Dr. Stephenson told me, “lifestyle changes could eliminate 40% of all cancers.” His recommendations include:


  • Don’t use tobacco
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Remain physically active
  • Protect your skin from the sun
  • Avoid risky behavior
  • Do self-exams and have regular screenings


With more than 100 types of cancer, there are a lot of variances in symptoms. Some cancers have no symptoms, especially early on. Others provide signs that alert us that something’s wrong. For example, bright red blood after a bowel movement is a symptom that needs prompt attention. Changes in moles’ shape, color, or size can be a sign of skin cancer. If you notice changes, get it checked. If you’re concerned about symptoms that you may be experiencing, see your provider as soon as possible.


If faced with a cancer diagnosis, have your provider refer you to Dr. Stephenson at (828) 894-0111. He’s a nationally renowned oncologist and hematologist highly regarded for his innovation. To learn more, visit StLukesNC.org/cancer.


If you have a healthcare topic of interest or want to learn more about St. Luke’s Hospital, send me a note at Michelle.Fortune@slhnc.org. Also, please follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, or visit our website at StLukesNC.org.