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Finding Cancer

When detected early, many cancers are now highly treatable. The chances for beating cancer are better than ever—but first you have to discover the cancer when treatment will be most effective.

“One of the fundamental principles of cancer screenings is that early detection, before there are symptoms, improves survival,” says Steven Rothschild, MD, a primary care physician at RUSH University Medical Center, who specializes in preventive and family medicine. Staying on top of these routine screenings will help you do that.

Who, what and when

Doctors are not able to screen for all cancers. But the screening methods listed in this article have been proven effective for finding certain cancers. Rothschild cautions that if you have a family history of a particular cancer or are otherwise at high risk, your screening may need to begin at an earlier age and occur more frequently. (Family history typically means a first-degree relative, meaning a parent or sibling.)

If you are concerned that you are at high risk for certain cancers—or if you’re not sure what your risk is—talk to your doctor or visit for more information.

Breast cancer
The test: Mammogram
Who should have one: Women
When: Beginning at age 40
How often: Annually
Whom you should see: Your primary care physician can complete the first step in the process—a clinical breast exam in the office—and then refer you to a mammographer or radiologist; whenever possible, see radiologists who specialize in reading mammograms (mammographers), such as those found at the RUSH Breast Imaging Center.

Cervical cancer
The test: Pap
Who should have one: Women
When: About three years after a woman begins having intercourse, but no later than age 21
How often: Annually with the regular Pap test or every two years with the newer, more sensitive liquid-based Pap. Beginning at age 30, women who have had three normal Pap results in a row may get tested every two to three years with either the regular or liquid-based Pap test.
Whom you should see: Gynecologist, family physician or internist

Of note: Women who have had a hysterectomy should speak with their physicians or surgeons about whether they should continue to have Pap tests.

Colon cancer
The test: There are several testing options, including stool testing for hidden (occult) blood, barium enema or sigmoidoscopy, and colonoscopy
Who should have one: Men and women
When: Beginning at age 50
How often: Annual testing of the stools for blood. Direct exams of the colon via barium enema or sigmoidoscopy every five years (if normal) or via colonoscopy every 10 years (if normal).
Whom you should see: Your primary care physician can complete annual stool testing and refer you to a gastroenterologist or colorectal surgeon.

Of note: “This is probably one of the least adhered-to screenings, but it’s one of the most prevalent cancers in both men and women,” says Rothschild. “It’s a very treatable cancer, though, if caught early.”

Prostate cancer
The test: Physician feels the prostate via digital rectal exam
Who should have one: Men
When: Beginning at age 50; African-American men should begin screening at age 40 because their incidence of prostate cancer is twice as high as that of other ethnic groups.
How often: Annually
Whom you should see: Primary care physician or urologist

Make your appointment today
All of these screenings are available at RUSH with state-of-the-art technologies that make the experience as stress-free as possible, and with physicians and technicians who specialize in reading the tests to give you a more accurate diagnosis.

And if a screening finds evidence of cancer, RUSH patients have access to the latest treatment options, including comprehensive cancer teams and innovative clinical trials that bring the future of medicine into the present.

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