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Finding Cancer
Screenings can detect cancer when it's most treatable
Date: 3/29/2011

Science tells us cancer is unique.  Yet all cases have one thing in common.  They are best caught early, when cancer is most treatable.

"One of the most important things you can know about cancer is that if it is found early, it can usually be stopped," says Hae Won Shin, MD, department chair of radiology. "Early detection can save your life.  Although they may be perceived as inconvenient or momentarily uncomfortable, screenings can be lifesaving and we should be thankful that we have access to these important diagnostic tools."

A mammogram found early stage breast cancer for Audrey, pictured with her oncologist Pauline Lerma, MD, The Cancer Institute of New Jersey Hamilton.
Your doctor can tell you when and how often you should be screened for different types of cancer.  "It can vary from standard recommendations depending on your risk factors such as personal and family health history," says Dr. Shin. 

Ever heard of a cancer exam?

The American Cancer Society recommends people 20-years-old and older should have periodic health exams to detect cancer.  A "cancer-related check-up" should include health counseling — and depending on your age and gender, exams for cancers of the thyroid, oral cavity, skin, lymph nodes, testes and ovaries can be ordered, as well as some tests for non-malignant (non-cancerous) diseases. Here's a summary of recommendations from the American Cancer Society (ACS).  Know the guidelines and get your screenings.

Colon and rectal cancer

Screenings for this type of cancer are important because they can detect unusual growths — known as polyps — before they become cancerous.  

Most men and women should be screened for colorectal cancer and polyps beginning at age 50. Your physician will discuss which test is best for you; these include multiple-stool take home tests as well as diagnostic imaging and/or colonoscopy.

Breast Cancer
At age 40, most women should start having mammograms every year. Mammograms can show cancer that is too small to be felt. As part of your routine care, your physician should perform clinical breast exams every three years while in your 20s and 30s, and every year beginning at age 40. He or she can also show you how to conduct a self-exam; it's important to know how to detect changes in your breasts.

Cervical Cancer
About 99 percent of cervical cancer is caused by human paillomavirus (HPV).  Women should have regular Pap tests three years after beginning sexual intercourse and should not wait beyond age 21. Screening intervals change with age.

Women who have had a hysterectomy without removal of the cervix should continue to have Pap tests.

Prostate Cancer
At age 50, the ACS recommends a discussion with your physician about the advantages and disadvantages of testing so you can decide if it is the right avenue for you. "One out of six men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer, so this is an important consideration.  If you are African American or if you have a father or brother with a history of prostate cancer before they turned 65, you should have this talk with your doctor even earlier, starting at age 45," Dr. Shin advises.

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