Need a New Year’s resolution? How about making sure that you get all of your cancer screenings taken care of?
As a middle-age woman, it’s easy to let these fall by the wayside what with all of the demands on your daily schedule, but now is a great time to get caught up. And it’s important to do so, since a new study indicates that Americans have been putting these screenings on the back burner. This study out of the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine found that the number of Americans who are getting cancer screenings declined from 1999-2010. These screenings include mammograms for breast cancer, Pap tests for cervical cancer, and sigmoidoscopies and colonoscopies for colon and rectal cancer. So what did the researchers find? Here’s information by category.
Breast Cancer Screenings
The researchers found that mammography rates didn’t change much between 1998-2010. The United States came close, but failed to meet the U.S. government’s “Healthy People 2010” goal of 70 percent of eligible women receiving mammograms from 2008-2010. Instead, 69.4 percent – or 3.3 million women over the age of 40 – had mammograms during those two years. For the decade previously, the average reported adherence was 69.7 percent.
Cervical Cancer Screenings
Researchers found there was actually a 3.7 decrease in self-reported Pap tests among women who were at least 18 years old between 1999-2010. The “Healthy People 2010” goal for this area was to have 90 percent of women who were 18 years old and above screened. Instead, 84.7 percent of the population in 2010 received Pap tests.
There was good news in this category! The researchers found that colorectal screening rates actually increased by 16.6 percent over the past decade. That represents more than 2.3 million more Americans have gotten screened. The most significant change – a 5.7 percent increase – happened between 2000-2003. Furthermore, the researchers found that the U.S. reached the goal of 50 percent of persons over the age of 50 years having colorectal screenings, which was one of the “Healthy People 2010” benchmarks.
So what screenings should older women have? The American Cancer Society has published a set of guidelines to help with early detection of cancer. Many of these recommendations start kicking in around the time that women go through the menopause transition. Here’s a list:
- Breast cancer - Yearly mammograms need to start at the age of 40. (I know that there have differing reports about how often women should begin to get mammograms when they reach mid-life, so talk to your doctor about what’s right for you.) Additionally, a clinical breast exam should be conducted every year for women 40 and above. “Women should know how their breasts normally look and feel and report any breast change promptly to their health care provider,” the American Cancer Society reported.
- Colon cancer – Women should be screened for colorectal cancer or polyps beginning at the age of 50. Tests that find polyps and cancer include: flexible sigmoidoscopy (every five years); colonoscopy (every 10 years); double-contrast barium enema (every five years); or a CT colonography (every five years). Tests that primary find cancer include: a yearly fecal occult blood test; a yearly fecal immunochemical test; or a stool DNA test.
- Cervical cancer – Women who are between the ages of 30 and 65 should have a Pap test as well as an HPV test every five years, or else a Pap test only every three years. Once over 65, women who have had regular cervical cancer testing with normal testing do not need to be tested for this type of cancer. However, women who have had a history of serious cervical pre-cancer should continue to be tested for at least two decades after that diagnosis. A woman who has had her uterus and cervix removed for reasons not related to cervical cancer and who has no history of this type of cancer or serious pre-cancer shouldn’t be tested.
- Endometrial (uterine) cancer. Once they reach menopause, all women should be made aware about the risk and symptoms of endometrial cancer. They then need to report any unexpected bleeding or spotting to their doctors.
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