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Early detection and treatment are key to cancer survival. In some cases, weeks and even days can be important in making a diagnosis.
Manual Breast Exam: Women over 20 should practice monthly breast self-examination (BSE) and have a physician perform an examination every three years (every year for women over 40).
Mammogram: A baseline mammogram is recommended by age 40; every one to two years beginning in the 40s; and annually beginning at age 50.
Pelvic Exam: Recommended annually for women over 18 years of age (and for women under 18 who are, or have been, sexually active).
Digital Rectal Exam: Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men. A digital rectal exam is recommended for all men over 40 as part of annual physical checkups.
Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA): Men over 50 should also have a blood test for prostate specific antigen, which is usually elevated in the presence of most prostate cancer.
Digital Rectal Exam: This brief manual examination should be performed by a physician every year after age 40.
Sigmoidoscopy/Colonoscopy: A physician checks the entire colon or the lower colon and rectum through a hollow, flexible, lighted tube. Recommended every five years after age 50, and more often for individuals in whom polyps are found.
Pap Test: Cells drawn from the cervix and body of the uterus are examined under a microscope. An annual pap test is strongly recommended for all women over 18 (including those who have had a hysterectomy), and for those under 18 who are, or have been sexually active. After a woman has had three or more consecutive exams with normal findings, the Pap test may be performed less frequently on low-risk women at the physician's discretion.
There are other forms of cancer that do not have specific screening tests. As always, consult your physician as soon as possible if you have symptomatic changes in your body that concern you.
Biopsy - A definitive test for most cancers. Fluid or cells are withdrawn from tissue and examined under a microscope, allowing pathologists to determine if a tumor is benign or malignant. Many biopsies are now done with the assistance of radiological guidance, such as stereotactic breast biopsies or ultrasound guided biopsies.
CT Scan - The more sophisticated CT (computerized axial tomography) scan may show a tumor's location and shape by use of X-ray data reconstructed into images of cross-sections of the body.
Diagnostic Tests - When a potential problem is identified, your physician will order a number of diagnostic tests that might include the following:
Fiber Optic Endoscopy - A hollow, lighted tube is inserted into the appropriate part of the body, such as the abdomen, upper gastrointestinal tract, or colon for inspection, photography, biopsy, and/or excision.
Metabolism - The sum total of all chemical processes in the body that result in growth, energy, waste elimination, and other body functions following food digestion and the distribution of nutrients in the blood.
MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) - Similar in effect to the CT scan, MRI uses magnetic fields rather than ionizing radiation to "see" tumors.
Nuclear Medicine Scans - These are scans that utilize ionizing radiation to image specific organs or tumors in different parts of the body.
PET Scan (Positron Emission Tomography) - A type of nuclear medicine imaging measuring important body functions, such as blood flow, oxygen use, and sugar (glucose) metabolism, to help doctors evaluate how well organs and tissues are functioning.
X-Rays - The traditional X-ray remains a valuable tool in determining the presence and extent of lung and other cancers.