Early detection of cancer helps in treating cancer effectively. Breast, cervical and endometrial cancers can be detected at an early stage through cancer screening (breast self-examination, clinical breast examination, mammography, Pap test, HPV test) tests. If you are a woman, you must know about all these tests.
Routine breast examination by women themselves and clinical breast exams help in detecting breast cancer early for an effective treatment. During breast self-examination, if you notice any unusual lump, change in the size and shape of the breast, breast skin, breast pain or changes in the appearance of breast and nipple, you must get yourself checked by a breast oncologist as early as possible.
Women age above 45 years should undergo breast cancer screening. Mammograms help in detecting breast cancers early even if there are no apparent symptoms especially during the early stages of breast cancer. Women over age 50 to 75 should consult their oncologists about the risk and about when they should undergo breast cancer screening.
Breast cancer screening also involves another imaging test: breast MRI. It is recommended for those women who are at risk of developing breast cancer due to the presence of mutated genes: BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene. Women who carry these genes are at an increased risk of developing ovarian cancer as well.
Though it is not a regular cancer screening test, it is helpful in evaluating the recurrence of ovarian cancer in women who have had ovarian cancer previously. If an oncologist or gynaec oncologist suspects ovarian cancer based on the symptoms, she may recommend this test along with other tests. Transvaginal ultrasound and CA-125 test may be ordered together to try to detect ovarian cancer, particularly in women who are at risk due to strong family history or personal history of ovarian cancer.
Some women have a strong family history of ovarian cancer. They carry BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes that are mutated. Owing to which, their risk increases manifolds. Some women have a condition called Lynch syndrome. Transvaginal ultrasound is recommended in such women owing to their risk of ovarian or endometrial cancers.
Cervical Cancer Screening
The lower part of the uterus is known as cervix – the cells that line the cervix may become abnormal and grow into cancerous cells. Cancerous cells grow and develop into cervical cancer. Gynaec-oncologist recommends Pap test to detect cervical cancer before cancer can become aggressive and cause life-threatening consequences. In a typical Pap test, a woman lies on a table with legs resting on the table stretching a bit wider, the doctor widens the vagina with the help of a tool called speculum and then uses another special brush or scraper to remove some cells from the cervix. The woman undergoing this test may feel somewhat discomfort, but the test is very important for the detection of cervical cancer early. The cells are sent to the diagnostic lab for testing cancer. Pap test is usually recommended for women age between 21 to 65 years. It is done alone or in combination with HPV testing. Both these tests are used for the early detection and prevention of cervical cancer. With the help of both these tests, abnormal cells can be found and treated before they turn into cancer.
Pap test may be recommended every three years – and also ordered along with the HPV. Both tests together may be recommended after every 3 to 5 years. However, the best person to decide the frequency and strategy of these test is the gynaecologist or surgical oncologist based on a woman’s medical history, age and other risk factors.