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The 2 Cancer Screenings You Should Never Skip

Female doctor sits and listens to a female patient.

Doctors agree: Colonoscopies and mammograms save lives. Here, we give an overview of screening guidelines and the reasons why these two cancer screenings are so important.

The Colonoscopy

Colorectal cancer is one of the few cancers that can be prevented with screening. While colon cancer is most commonly diagnosed in adults that are 50 or older, there has been an increase in the number of diagnoses for younger adults.

The American Cancer Society has recently proposed new recommendations that lower the screening age to 45. Those with a personal or family history of colon polyps, cancer at an early age or certain chronic medical conditions, should be encouraged to be screened starting at an earlier age. Ask your primary care physician when you should start screening.

Sadly, in recent years colon and rectal cancer has been on the rise, especially for young adults, most likely due to the fact that colon cancer screening remains underutilized. Consequently, colorectal remains the third most common cancer worldwide and the second leading cause of cancer deaths.

One of the main barriers to colorectal screening is the lack of awareness of the disease. Colorectal cancer tends to not be discussed as openly as other conditions such as breast or lung cancer. Furthermore, the thought of undergoing a colonoscopy is not appealing. This is compounded by the fact that there is a general misconception about the study.

A colonoscopy can detect early tumors, and more importantly pre-cancerous growths of tissue called polyps. Polyps can be removed at the time of the procedure, thereby preventing cancer from developing. When caught early through procedures including a colonoscopy, up to 90 percent of patients may be cured of their cancer.

The Mammogram

The mammogram remains the most important screening test in the detection of breast cancer, and it likely saves thousands of lives every year.

Beginning at the age of 40, all women should have an annual mammogram to check for breast cancer. Depending on a woman’s personal risk, her physician may recommend she begin annual mammograms before the age of 40.

At Penn, we offer dedicated breast imagers who can perform the following breast imaging services:

  • Digital Mammography – The most beneficial screening method available for breast cancer. This mammogram uses 3-D technology to offer greater precision, comfort, instant availability, and improved detection of breast cancer. The 3-D technology makes it easier for radiologists to see the tumors, allowing for better diagnosis and patient outcomes.
  • Breast MRI – Always performed along with a mammogram, but not always on the same day. Breast MRIs are non-invasive and use powerful magnetic fields and radio waves to construct internal images of the breast. The main goal of the breast MRI is to determine the size and extent of the cancer.
  • Fast Breast MRI – A shortened version of the traditional breast MRI. The fast version is more often recommended to women with dense breast tissue that do not meet the lifetime breast cancer risk level for a full MRI study. While the fast breast MRI may detect cancers not shown through a mammogram alone, it is still less thorough than the full breast MRI and therefore not recommended for women with high risk breast cancer.

All mammograms performed here are connected to a comprehensive breast cancer program at the Abramson Cancer Center, an NCI-designated comprehensive cancer center.

Also, most locations offer same-day, walk-in appointments for mammograms.

To learn more about colonoscopies, mammograms and other life-saving cancer screenings:

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