Ever been scanned, screened, poked or prodded in your own war against cancer? If the answer’s yes, here’s a fact worth celebrating: You’ve earned a place in medical history. Turns out that more screenings are one reason overall cancer rates are dropping. That’s the really good news in the latest 15-year cancer report.
Death rates are down for cancers of the breast, cervix, colon, lungs and prostate. And overall, there are fewer new cancers a year. Healthy living and better treatments explain some of the drop, but the courage to say “yes” to a cancer screening is also a big factor. Yes, courage. Both of us have had enough colonoscopies, skin checks and up-close-and-personal prostate exams to know the emotional landscape of a cancer screening. First, you’ve gotta brave all the “what if” worries and those “the doc’s going to look there?” jitters. Then comes the “when will I get the results” anxiety. But finally you arrive at “whew, I’m glad I did it.”
So are we, because cancer screenings save lives, including ours: We’ve both had precancerous polyps removed during colonoscopies. Trouble is, some headlines have made it tempting to skip screenings. Maybe you heard about new research questioning PSA checks, the blood test that reveals prostate cancer risk. Or about a study suggesting that many older men are getting PSA checks they don’t need or a new survey announced that 30 percent of women are confused about new mammogram rules.
If you’ve been getting checked, stick with it. You (and the people you love) want to be part of the life-saving good news about cancer, not wind up saying, “If only.”
Here’s the scoop on four vital screenings:
PSA tests: About half of men 50 and older don’t get PSA tests or digital rectal exams (which check for prostate enlargement). Easy excuse: PSA tests aren’t perfect. Rising levels may foretell trouble or not. They could mean aggressive cancer, a no-problem slow-grower or a simple benign condition. The YOU view: You need an annual PSA check, period. The only question is when. Start by 45 if you’re African-American or have a family history; earlier if there’s a strong family history. Otherwise, begin at 50. Excuse buster: Combining a digital rectal exam with a PSA test catches more cancers than either test alone. So don’t skip that rubber-glove check.
Mammograms: Skip 'em? No way. More than 200,000 women in North America develop breast cancer each year. Yet half of women in their 40s put off this breast check, and nearly 40 percent of women over 50 do. Easy excuse: Conflicting advice. The American Cancer Society recommends breast scans every year beginning at 40. New U.S. government guidelines recommend mammograms every two years between ages 50 and 74 for women at average risk. The YOU view: Work with your doc to decide when and how often is best for you, based on personal risk. Excuse buster: Sign up for automatic phone/email reminders at your doctor’s office ... a little nudging works wonders.
Colon-cancer checks: Because colonoscopies and a few other colon exams spot precancers, this test prevents cancer, saving up to 11,700 lives a year. But just half of the people who should get ‘em do, which is one reason 50,000 people a year still die from this preventable cancer. Easy excuse: “I don’t want anyone looking there.” The YOU view: Yes, you do. Start at age 50; make that 45 if you’re African-American and younger if there’s a family or personal history. Excuse buster: Odds are you’ll need to do it only every 10 years. Even the squeamiest can manage that.
Skin-cancer exams: Melanoma, the deadliest type, is one cancer that’s going up while others are going down. Easy excuse: Not wanting to get naked with your doc. The YOU view: Blushing isn’t fatal; melanoma is. Get checked if you’re over 30, spot a weird-looking mole or have ever had a serious sunburn, any skin cancer or a family history of melanoma. Excuse-buster: Catching it early practically guarantees a cure. Take a shower, put on extra deodorant and your best underwear, then grin and bare it. You’ll be glad you did.
The YOU Docs, Mehmet Oz and Mike Roizen, are authors of “YOU: On a Diet.” Want more? See “The Dr. Oz Show” on TV. To submit questions, go to www.RealAge.com.