Perhaps no other word strikes fear in our hearts as much as the word cancer. The disease claims the lives of more than half a million Americans each year. It is the second-leading cause of death, behind heart disease.
But cancer doesn’t have to be the death sentence we sometimes think it is. In fact, most cancers can be successfully treated, and it often can be prevented.
There are more than 100 kinds of cancer. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the most common cancers among women are breast cancer, lung cancer and colorectal cancer. Among men, the three most common cancers are prostate cancer, lung cancer and colorectal cancer.
Preventive Screenings Help Fight Cancer
Research shows that early screenings can help reduce the number of new cancer cases. For example, screenings may prevent cervical or colorectal cancers by finding pre-cancerous lesions. These lesions can be treated before becoming cancerous.
Early detection is key. Preventive cancer screenings may include:
- A physical exam and history: Doctors look at the body to check general health and to look for anything unusual, such as lumps. As part of the exam, the doctor will ask about health habits, past illnesses and treatments.
- Lab tests: Screenings may involve taking samples of tissue, blood, urine or other substances.
- Imaging: The doctor may want to take images, such as a mammogram for breast cancer.
- Genetic tests: Since some cancers are inherited, a doctor may test for gene mutations (changes) linked to some forms of cancer.
Some examples of important cancer screenings include:
- Breast cancer: Getting mammograms regularly can lower the chance of dying from breast cancer.
- Colorectal cancer: Cancer of the colon and rectum is the second-leading cancer killer in the United States. Everyone age 50 and older should get a screening.
- Prostate cancer: Most prostate cancers grow slowly. Screening can help find it before you have symptoms.
How often you should be screened and what kind of preventive care screenings you need depend on your age, gender, health and family history.
Many preventive services are covered at no cost when services are provided by a doctor in your health plan’s network.* To find out if your plan covers all or part of the cost of cancer screenings, call the customer service number on your member ID card.
What are the most preventable cancers?
There are steps you can take to help prevent cancer. The World Health Organization says up to a third of all cancer cases are preventable. Some of the most preventable cancers include cervical, lung, mouth and throat, and esophageal.
Lung cancer. This is the leading cause of cancer death for both men and women. The main causes of lung cancer are smoking and second-hand smoke. So the best way to guard against lung cancer is to avoid both. Finding and treating lung cancer early can greatly improve the chances of a positive outcome.
Cervical cancer. This cancer used to be the leading cause of cancer death among women in the United States. Now thanks to screening tests and a vaccine, cervical cancer is highly preventable. Pap tests and the vaccine for human papillomavirus (HPV), the disease that causes most cervical cancers, have greatly decreased this cancer’s death rate.
Mouth and throat cancer. The American Institute for Cancer Research estimates that 63 percent of mouth cancers could be prevented by simple lifestyle changes. The main causes of these cancers are tobacco use, too much alcohol use and human papillomavirus infection.
Esophageal cancer. This cancer could be prevented 63 percent of the time just by controlling obesity. Obesity doubles the chance of a person getting esophageal cancer due to the chronic inflammation caused by excess body fat.
These are just a few of the cancers that can be controlled and prevented by making healthy lifestyle choices that emphasize staying active, moderation in diet, limiting alcohol and scheduling preventive screenings. For example, 10 different types of cancer are linked to being overweight or obese.Schedule an appointment with your doctor to discuss any issues you may have. Don’t leave your health to luck. Make a pledge to take action today.