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Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States and this past year about 1.8 million people were diagnosed, according to the National Foundation for Cancer Research. However, in recent years there has been a decline of certain cancer screenings around the country and across the Aspirus Health system. This means a decrease in cancer detection and treatment for those at risk.

Clare Cullen

This month is National Cancer Control Month. It’s a time to raise awareness for cancer prevention, detection and treatment; and the best way to prevent and detect the spread of certain types of cancer is through screening.

Screening means checking the body for cancer before symptoms start to occur. Right now, the American Cancer Society recommends regular screenings for breast cancer, colorectal cancer, cervical cancer and prostate cancer. They also recommend endometrial cancer and lung cancer screenings for those who are at a higher risk of developing those cancers.

Getting tests regularly can help with early diagnosis when treatment is likely to be most effective and can consist of physical exams, laboratory tests, imaging procedures or genetic tests.

Some tests are used only for people who have known risk factors for certain types of cancer. Those at higher risk may have a personal or family history of cancer, certain gene mutations, exposure to cancer-causing agents, such as tobacco smoke or workplace chemicals, and unknown blood clot development.

It’s important that people get tested when cancer screenings are needed or when at risk. Finding cancer in its early stages, before symptoms appear, can make it easier to treat and control.

Guidelines for cancer screenings are a little different for everyone and it’s best to talk to a doctor about the right choice. However, the American Cancer Society recommends the following:

Breast cancer screenings – Women ages 45 to 54 should get yearly mammograms. After age 55, women can choose to have a mammogram every other year or can continue with yearly screenings.

Cervical cancer screenings – A Pap test is used to screen for cervical cancer. Women older than 25 should get a Pap test every three years. From ages 30 to 65, it’s recommended to get a Pap test and a human papillomavirus (HPV) test every five years.

Colon cancer screenings – People with an average risk of developing colon cancer should get regular screenings between ages 45 and 75 and will be informed how often by their doctor.

Prostate cancer screenings – Doctors are still researching how effective prostate cancer screenings are. Most men should talk to their doctor at age 50 about whether a screening is right for them.

Lung cancer screenings – Lung cancer screenings are recommended for people ages 55 to 74 who currently smoke or have a history of smoking.

People at higher risk of developing cancer, may want to start getting annual screenings earlier than the average recommended age. Talk to a doctor if you’re unsure when to start; they’ll provide recommendations and help you schedule a screening, if needed.

Clare Cullen, MSN, FNP, is an Aspirus nurse practitioner with Aspirus Stevens Point Clinic-Hoover Road.