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Cancer screenings: Learn

Every day, cells in your body grow and replace themselves. Most of the time, this happens in a healthy way. But, sometimes, cells grow out of control and harmful tumors form. This is cancer.

The best known defenses against cancer are maintaining a healthy weight; regular, moderate exercise at least 30 minutes 5 times a week; and early detection and screening. A “screening” is a test to try to detect a disease before you can see or feel it.

Many screening guidelines are based on the general population and do not include at-risk populations. African Americans are among groups with higher risk for breast, cervical, colorectal and prostate cancers. African Americans tend to have more aggressive, faster growing cancers at younger ages.

The good news is that cancers are highly treatable when caught early. Unfortunately, fear of detecting cancer interferes with screening and getting timely treatment.

Today, in an era of personalized medical care, it’s more important than ever to learn about your family’s cancer history: who had it, what type of cancer, how old they were, and what happened to them. This information will allow you and your doctor to develop a personalized screening plan.

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Colorectal (colon or rectum) Cancer

Everyone is at risk for colorectal (colon or rectum) cancer. The risk increases with age. But the rates of colorectal cancer are higher among African Americans than among any other population group in the United States and the survival rates are lower.

Unhealthy diet (high in meats and animal fats while low in fruits and vegetables) and obesity may increase African Americans’ risk of developing and dying from colon cancer. Also, genes and family habits may play a role in risk and survival.

There are many possible reasons for the difference in survival rates between African Americans and other populations. African Americans are:

  • Less likely to have cancer preventing and life saving screening tests for colorectal cancer
  • Less likely to have colorectal polyps detected and removed before they become cancer. Polyps are grapelike growths on the lining of the colon or rectum that may become cancer, but can be removed to prevent cancer from ever developing.
  • More likely to develop polyps deeper in the colon on the right side. These are harder to detect and remove.
  • Less likely to be diagnosed in the early stages when the cancer can be readily treated and even cured.
  • More likely to be diagnosed with advanced colorectal cancer when there are fewer treatment options available.

Screening Colonoscopy is One of the Best Ways to Detect Colorectal Cancer. Fortunately, colorectal cancer diagnosed at early stages can be successfully treated and often cured. In fact, most colorectal cancer cases and deaths are preventable by removing the pre-cancer polyps (grape-like growths) before they become cancer. That is why screening is so important.

While several screening options exist, the colonoscopy is among the best detection methods. A colonoscopy uses a tiny camera on a long, thin tube that is inserted in the rectum to examine the right and left side of the colon. The colonoscopy equipment is also outfitted with tools that can remove the polyps. Patients usually are asleep during the process and don’t feel it.

Early detection is a good way to take control of your health. If colorectal cancer is detected early, you have more treatment options and mostly likely your cancer is curable a greater chance for survival.

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Breast Cancer

All women are at risk for breast cancer. Breast size doesn’t matter. The risk increases with age. Did you know that smoking can also raise your risk of breast cancer, and many other types of cancer? And e-cigarettes aren’t any better. Vaping may be a gateway to cigarette smoking. And, vaping has not been proven to help people quit smoking. Quitting smoking is the best way to reduce this risk.

African American women are more likely than white women to be diagnosed with breast cancer under the age of 45, and less likely to survive. There are many possible reasons for the difference in survival rates. African American women are:

  • Diagnosed with aggressive tumors more often
  • More often diagnosed with more advanced or later stage breast cancer
  • More likely have diabetes, obesity and hypertension
  • Less likely to get breast cancer treated right away

Screening Mammogram is One of the Best Ways to Detect Breast Cancer. A screening is a test aimed at detecting the disease before you can see or feel it. A mammogram, which is an X-ray of the breasts, is a screening tool to find breast cancer early. Early detection is a good way to take control of your health. If breast cancer is detected early, you have more treatment options and a greater chance for survival.

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Cervical Cancer

All women are at risk for cervical cancer. But African American women are more likely to die of cervical cancer than any other racial or ethnic group. There are two likely reasons for the difference in survival. African American women are:

  • Less likely to get screened for cervical cancer
  • Often diagnosed with more advanced cervical cancer

HPV Vaccine and Screening are Best Ways to Defend against and Detect Cervical Cancer. The HPV vaccine is important because it protects against cancers caused by human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. HPV is a very common virus. Most people with HPV never develop symptoms or health problems. And, sometimes, HPV infections can cause certain cancers, including cervical cancer and other diseases.

The vaccine, however, does not protect against all HPV types— so it will not prevent all cases of cervical cancer related to HPV, or cervical cancers that are not HPV-related.. It is therefore important for women to also continue getting screened for cervical cancer.

A screening is a test to try to detect a disease before you can see or feel it.  With regular gynecological exams, changes in the cervix can often be detected before they become cancerous. Two screening tests can help prevent cervical cancer or find it early: 1) the Pap test (or Pap smear) looks for cell changes on the cervix that might become cancer if they are not treated appropriately, and 2) the HPV test looks for the virus (human papillomavirus) that can cause these cell changes. If you get the HPV test along with the Pap test, the cells collected during the Pap test will be tested for HPV at the laboratory.

Early detection is a good way to take control of your health. If cervical cancer is detected early, you have more treatment options and a greater chance for survival.

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Prostate Cancer

All men are at risk for prostate cancer. The risk increases with age. African American men have the highest rate of prostate cancer in the world and are more likely to die of the disease than any other group. Researchers still don’t know exactly why this is the case and have suggested that biology and genetics may play a role.

The difference in African American men’s survival rates from prostate cancer may also be the result of:

  • Earlier onset of disease
  • More aggressive or treatment-resistant tumors
  • Lower rates of prostate cancer screening
  • Diagnosed at later stages of the disease when there are fewer treatment options available

Screening is the Best Way to Detect Prostate Cancer. A screening is a test to try to detect a disease before you can see or feel it, so that it can be detected in the very early stages and be treated more effectively. It is important that men discuss the risks and benefits of these prostate cancer screening tests with their doctor:

The PSA (prostate-specific antigen) is a blood test. During a PSA test, a small amount of blood is drawn from the arm, and the level of PSA is measured:

  • Levels under 4 ng/mL are usually considered “normal”
  • Levels over 10 ng/mL are usually considered “high”
  • Levels between 4 and 10 ng/mL are usually considered “intermediate”

The other screening test is a digital rectal exam (DRE). During a DRE, a doctor inserts a gloved, lubricated finger into the rectum and examines the prostate for any irregularities in size, shape and texture. Early detection is a good way to take control of your health. If prostate cancer is detected early, you have more treatment options and a greater chance for survival.

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When you've learned about cancer risks, you’re ready to ACT.

ACT NOW →

Your mental health affects your overall health. When you’ve finished the Cancer Screening section, be sure to complete the Emotional Well-Being section.

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