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The Power of Cancer Screenings

Author: Emi Yoshida, MD
Radiation Oncologist

As care providers, our goal is to do everything in our power to give each of our patients an upper hand – to ensure that they are provided with the highest level of care and to increase their chances of positive treatment outcomes. For our patients, screenings are that upper hand.

Screenings are the best way for physicians to identify signs of trouble and to react to them as quickly as possible. In the best cases, screenings allow for early intervention and preventive treatments. And even when they detect cancer, early detection gives cancer patients a much wider scope of treatment options that have the potential to drastically improve their outcomes.

Early Detection is Essential

Screenings are our primary method of detection, both for cancerous and pre-cancerous lesions in the body. It’s important to remember that not all positive screenings are indicative of cancer. Rather, these screenings are designed to detect abnormalities or unusual cell activity in the body that may contribute to a patient’s risk for cancer or other complications. In order to receive an actual cancer diagnosis, biopsy or additional tests are used to confirm cancerous cell activity.

Types of Screenings

Your primary care physician will screen for a variety of cancers during your annual physicals and regular wellness checkups, but it is still helpful to know about a few types of preventive screenings that are essential for keeping you healthy and catching any early signs of trouble.

For Men

  • Prostate checks: In addition to detecting any physical signs of trouble, these screenings are equally helpful in terms of obtaining a detailed genetic or family history and assessing your personal level of future risk. Prostate checks are typically conducted by your primary care physician, and will likely take place during your annual physical.

For Women

  • Pap smears: For adult women, pap smears and a few additional screenings are typically conducted during annual physicals and OB/GYN appointments. Pap smears look for abnormal cell activity, and pelvic exams help detect abnormal tissue in and around the female reproductive system.
  • Mammograms: Women over the age of 40 will likely receive mammograms during their annual physicals, OB/GYN appointments. However, breast cancer can occur earlier in a woman’s life as well, so it is important for women to inform their doctors if they notice or feel any changes in their breasts during self-checks.

For Everyone

  • Lung cancer: Low-dose CT scans can be a valuable tool for detecting lung cancer at its earliest and most treatable stages. Washington Hospital offers a screening and prevention program that focuses on prevention measures for high risk patients, and offers helpful resources to those who are currently smoking or who have a history of smoking.
  • Colonoscopy: For anyone over the age of 50 or with a genetic predisposition for colorectal cancers, these screenings are crucial for maintaining your colon health and monitoring any abnormal activity that may contribute to colon cancer later on.

When in doubt, it is always best to contact your primary care physician with any concerns about your health. They will not only be able to help you navigate any necessary screenings, but they will also help you coordinate potential treatment plans as well.

When Screenings Come Back Positive

We never want to see abnormal results come back, but when we do, Washington Hospital Healthcare System has a wide scope of tools that allow us to make diagnoses and formulate treatment plans quickly.

For our patients in the Radiation Oncology Center (ROC), we use the results of these diagnostic tests to help us design individualized treatment plans, and to identify the best possible course of care for each patient. We determine which radiation therapies to utilize and continue to support patients throughout their ongoing treatment and recovery plans.

Patients have their cases presented to our tumor board, a multi-disciplinary team comprised of cancer specialists who work together to review and monitor the patient’s case at every stage, from diagnosis to recovery. This added insight helps us ensure that each patient is getting the highest level of personalized care possible.

Visit the Washington Hospital website to learn more about cancer care, your personal screening options, or the treatments we offer through the UCSF – Washington Cancer Center.

Posted April, 2020