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Five Things to Know About Cancer Screenings

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According to the CDC, screening every two years reduces breast cancer deaths by 26 percent for every 1,000 women screened. Yet, many people still put getting screened for cancer on the back burner, whether because of business, fear of the procedure or the result, or simply a desire to not think about the “C” word. However, screenings are safe, effective and necessary. Here’s what you need to know.

You don’t need to have symptoms to get screened.

One in three people will be diagnosed with cancer in their life­time, yet many wait until they have symptoms to visit the doctor. Common can­cers, like breast, cervical and lung, can be screened for regularly and safely. A mammogram is the best way to detect breast cancer in its early, most treatable stage because it provides a detailed look at the inter­nal structure of breast tissue and can reveal changes that are too small to feel.

Cancer isn’t just something you worry about when you’re older.

Typically, women should start getting screened for cervical cancer at 25, breast cancer at 45, and lung cancer at 50, but your doctor may advise you to start earlier depending on your risk factors, such as lifestyle and family history. You should also know how your breasts normally look and feel, and keep on eye out for any changes. How­ever, screenings do catch changes that you wouldn’t be able to detect.

You also never out­grow the need to get screened.

Women who are 50-54 should get yearly mammograms, and after 55 they can typically switch to getting screened every other year. However, breast cancer is possible in elderly women, so you shouldn’t stop breast cancer screenings as you age. If a mammogram isn’t right for you any longer, there are other options that you can explore with your doctor. Typically, women over the age of 65 no longer need to test for cervical cancer.

You don’t need to have insurance, or even a primary care doctor, to get screened.

There are many resources available to those who do not have a doctor, are underinsured, uninsured or have never been screened. The federal government has a tool that allows you to search for health centers in every neighborhood in the city that provide free or low-­cost screenings. Plug in your zip code at findahealthcenter.hrsa.gov to get started.

It’s worth it.

It’s true that there are some downsides. Mammograms can find something that isn’t can­cer, which may lead to unnecessary tests. They also expose the breasts to small amounts of radiation, but an overage it’s a fraction of what most Americans are exposed to each year just from their natural surroundings. According to ACS, however, about 281,550 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed this year, and screenings remain the best way to catch cancer early.