With any form of cancer, the earlier the disease is detected and treated, the better the outcome is likely to be for the patient. Survival rate, quality of life, and the complexity and cost of treatment are all dramatically improved when cancer is caught early and treated appropriately. In fact, with more aggressive cancers, it’s often the case that cure is possible only when the disease is caught in the earliest stage.
Charu Trivedi, MD, of The Toledo Clinic Cancer Centers explains that there are two components to early cancer detection—early diagnosis and screening. “With early diagnosis, the cancer is present but not far advanced and the patient is already experiencing some symptoms, whereas screening involves testing healthy, asymptomatic people in order to detect cancer before symptoms arise,” she says.
Considering the correlation between early detection and cancer survivorship, the importance of compliance with cancer screening tests, such as mammogram, colonoscopy, Pap testing, and HPV testing, can’t be overstated. Unfortunately, as Dr. Trivedi observes, too many people who would benefit from these screening tests are failing to take advantage of them—especially among those of lower educational attainment or socioeconomic status.
So which cancer screenings should people get and when should they get them? Younger people tend to think of cancer screenings as something only middle-age people need to worry about—likely because any screening recommendations they hear usually apply to that age group. For instance, the American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends that men and women get their first colonoscopy at age 45, and that women should start getting yearly mammograms at that same age. However, it’s important to understand that these specific recommendations apply to individuals at average risk of developing colon and breast cancer respectively. “People at higher risk may need to start getting screened earlier,” Dr. Trivedi notes. “For example, starting between the ages of 21 and 29, colon cancer can be seen in men, and breast, cervical, and colon cancers can be seen in women who are at higher than average risk due to factors such as family history.”
To help people determine which cancer screenings are appropriate, the ACS has established a set of cancer screening guidelines based on age, gender, and level of risk, which can be viewed on the organization’s website, cancer.org. The age groups covered in the guidelines include 21-29, 30-39, 40-49, 50-64, and 65 or older. Dr. Trivedi recommends that people discuss the applicable guidelines with their healthcare provider to establish an individualized cancer screening schedule.
Whichever cancer screening test an individual undergoes, it’s essential for him or her to discuss the results with their healthcare provider. This applies especially to more controversial tests, such as prostate-specific antigen (PSA) testing for prostate cancer. “As oncologists, we still believe PSA testing is a valuable tool, but patients who have the test must talk with their doctor about what the results mean and their implications with respect to treatment,” Dr. Trivedi says.
Dr. Trivedi also emphasizes the importance of getting screened for human papillomavirus, or HPV, which is associated with several forms of cancer in women and men, most notably cervical cancer in women, for which screening should start at age 25. However, she cautions that HPV-vaccinated people should still have screening for cervical cancer according to the guidelines.
Looking to the future, Dr. Trivedi is hopeful that new technologies will expand our screening capabilities to include many other cancers for which there are no reliable screening tests at the present time. In fact, a company called GRAIL is currently in the development phase of a DNA-sequencing test that can detect more than 50 different cancer types, which, if effective, could prove to be a game changer when it comes to early detection and treatment with
one blood test per year.
The Toledo Clinic Cancer Centers, located at 4126 N. Holland Sylvania Road, Suite 105, also provides imaging, laboratory, chemotherapy and IV services. The cancer center consists of 7 medical and 3 radiation oncologists along with 8 nurse practitioners and 4 research nurses. The cancer center also has satellite centers in Maumee, Napoleon, Bowling Green, Wauseon, and Monroe.
The Toledo Clinic Cancer Centers has earned Patient-Centered Specialty Practice level 3 recognition and Oncology Medical Home recognition from the National Committee for Quality Assurance. Oncology homes align systems and resources with coordinated care focused on cancer patients and their needs. This reduces fragmentation, supports shared decision making, and improves the patient experience. They are the first oncology practice in the state of Michigan and the second oncology practice in the state of Ohio to receive this recognition.
For more information, please call The Toledo Clinic Cancer Centers at 419-479-5605.