Screening for these common cancers could save your life. Here’s what to know

·3 min read

Cancer is a difficult topic that many would prefer to avoid. But, as Fox 4 reporter Matt Stewart learned last year, cancer screenings can be lifesaving.

Stewart was diagnosed and treated for colon cancer after getting a colonoscopy at his wife’s urging. He had recently turned 45, the recommended age to begin that screening.

“Please, do yourself a favor and don’t wait. Make an appointment right now and get your colon checked out,” Stewart said in a December 2020 statement for the local lifestyle publication IN Kansas City. “My wife’s insistence saved my life, and I pray my insistence might now save yours.”

Early detection is crucial for stopping many forms of cancer before they become life-threatening. Following are details about the procedures for a handful of the most common screenings.

Recommendations differ for when to seek out particular screenings, so doctors recommend asking someone who is familiar with your health profile about which ones are right for you.

“To get educated on what your options are and how frequently you need to be screened, all of those need to be a conversation with your primary care provider,” said Dr. Denton Shanks, a family medicine physician at The University of Kansas Health System.

“Lots of patients are afraid to come in because they think that they’re going to get cancer detected … (but) sooner is always better than postponing and coming in later.”

When to get screened

Colon cancer: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now recommends that adults get tested between the ages of 45 and 75. Screening methods range from yearly at-home tests to colonoscopies in a medical setting, generally every five to 10 years.

Breast cancer: Most medical institutions recommend a mammogram for people 40 or older every one to two years. Breast self-exams can also be performed by people of all ages at home or during gynecology appointments.

Lung cancer: The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends CT scans to detect lung cancer in people ages 50 to 80 who currently smoke or have quit smoking within the last 15 years.

Prostate cancer: A simple blood test is all that’s needed to screen for prostate cancer. This test should be administered yearly or every other year starting at age 50, or younger if patients have a family history of prostate cancer.

Skin cancer: Experts disagree on whether regular screening is needed to detect skin cancer. The CDC recommends that you tell your primary care doctor about any moles or skin conditions that are growing, changing or causing you discomfort.

Cervical cancer: The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends a Pap smear every three years between ages 21 and 65. After age 30, a high-risk HPV test every five years can be used instead of, or in addition to, the Pap test.

Financial help is available

Most health insurance plans cover many or all preventive medical treatments, including cancer screenings.

If you don’t have insurance, a number of health clinics in the Kansas City area can provide these services at little or no cost to low-income residents. These include KC CARE, the Samuel U. Rodgers Health Center, Swope Health, the Medina Clinic, and Vibrant Health KC. Some private clinics also have programs designed to help low-income patients, said Shanks.

“Come on in even if you are afraid of the cost,” he said. “There’s lots of ways that we can still help out … (even) if costs for transportation or other issues are a concern, the main thing is to still come in and be seen and have that conversation.”

Do you have more questions about staying healthy in Kansas City? Ask The Star’s new Service Journalism team at kcq@kcstar.com or by filling out the form below.

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