The importance of getting screened for common cancers.

An owl in the Dubai desert. (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)
An owl in the Dubai desert. (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)

“Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored,” says Aldous Huxley.
Aldous Leonard Huxley was an English writer. By the end of his life, Huxley was widely acknowledged as one of the pre-eminent intellectuals of his time.

Generally speaking, many people ignore going through screening tests. They believe “no news is good news.” That is not good.

The fact remains early detection of cancer increases the chances for successful treatment and improves cure rate and prognosis. With this in mind the Government of Alberta has set up Alberta Cancer Screening Programs called Screeningforlife.

The Alberta program offers cancer screening to people who have no symptoms to get checked for breast, cervical and colorectal cancer.

Breast Cancer Screening

Just because no one in your family has had breast cancer does not mean you are not at risk. In fact, 80 per cent of women who develop breast cancer have no family history at all.

Having routine mammograms is the best way to find breast cancer early.

If you are between the ages of 50 and 74, you are at an age when it is important to consider having mammograms regularly. This is because the risk of breast cancer increases, as women get older.

Women who are under the age of 50 and over the age of 74 may need a screening mammogram on a regular basis if there are strong indications such as family history of breast cancer. These women should discuss their individual situation with their family doctor.

Cervical Cancer Screening

Screening is recommended for all average-risk females 25 to 69 years.

It is important to know cervical cancer can almost always be avoided with screening and vaccination. In fact, 90 per cent of cervical cancer can be prevented with regular Pap tests (the main screening test for cervical cancer) and following up on any abnormal results.

Georgios Nikolaou Papanikolaou (1883 – 1962) was a Greek pioneer in cytopathology and early cancer detection, and inventor of the “Pap smear”.

The single most important reason to have regular Pap tests is that they can save your life. About 75 per cent of sexually active Albertans will get HPV(human papillomavirus) in their lifetime. It is the main cause of cervical cancer. Good news is nine in 10 cases of cervical cancer can be prevented with regular Pap tests.

Colon and Rectal Cancer Screening

It is possible you may have colon cancer but have no symptoms. Speak to your doctor about colorectal cancer screening after you turn 50. Commonly used tests are:

Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) – This is a home stool test for people who have no symptoms and no family history of colon and rectal cancer.It is safe, easy to do and can be done right at home. Should be done once a year.

Colonoscopy – If your FIT is positive then you need a colonoscopy.A colonoscopy can also be recommended as your screening test instead of a FIT if you have any history that puts you at an increased risk.

Do not ignore the facts. Get yourself screened. If Albertans follow these guidelines then we can reduce the risk of cancer in Alberta by about 50 per cent. That would be wonderful!

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