6 cancer screenings you should consider

When caught early, cancer is often easier to treat. That’s why cancer screenings are critical to the early detection and treatment of disease. 

Be proactive about your health and have an annual check-up with a health care provider. 

But also do your own research. Learn about your cancer risk and what screenings are recommended for you — your age and gender, and your family history — and take any concerns you have to your provider. 

Northside Hospital experts offer these six cancer screenings you should consider. 

1. Skin exam 

Dr. Nicole Kounalakis, medical director of the Northside Hospital Cancer Institute Melanoma & Skin Cancer Program, said, “The goal of any screening program is to detect disease at a stage where treatment is more effective than it would be after signs/symptoms occur.” 

Regular skin exams and mole checks are pivotal to detecting melanoma and skin cancer early. 

“While there are many types of skin cancer, melanoma represents the main public health concern,” said Dr. Kounalakis. “Melanoma usually presents as a mole — a new mole or an old mole that has changed.” 

Check your skin each month to look for anything abnormal or suspicious. Use a mirror and have someone help examine hard-to-see areas. 


“In addition to monthly self-exams, have an annual skin screening performed by a provider, who will check your skin and look at the size, shape, color and texture of any suspicious areas,” Dr. Kounalakis added. 

2. Mammogram 

One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime. 

“I recommend that women practice breast awareness by paying close attention to certain signs and symptoms — lumps in the breast, changes in the shape or size of the breast, redness or skin thickening or nipple discharge,” said Dr. Akansha Chowdhary, medical oncologist at Northside. 

"Mammograms save lives; screening mammography has consistently been shown to decrease the death rate from breast cancer and find cancers earlier when they are more easily treatable,” said Dr. Lynn Baxter, Northside’s director of breast imaging. “Current state-of-the-art mammograms with tomosynthesis (3D) are even more effective at finding cancer, while also decreasing the number of patients who are recalled for additional tests.”

“For higher risk patients or those with dense tissue, adding MRI to mammography can provide the most thorough screening evaluation,” Dr. Baxter added. 

Women should have an annual mammogram beginning at age 40. Because of their family history, genetic tendency or other risk factors, some women should be screened earlier and may need different types of screening. Talk with your doctor about your personal and family history and whether you should have additional tests or should start screening for breast cancer at an earlier age. 

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3. Prostate cancer testing 

Beginning at age 40, men should discuss the pros and cons of prostate cancer screening with a physician, especially if considered to be at higher risk for prostate cancer

Medical oncologist Dr. Crain Garrot said prostate cancer is a very common disease. Men at higher risk include African American men and those “with family history of prostate cancer or even family histories of other cancers,” including breast cancer. 

Dr. Garrot said about 10%-12% of men have the BRCA1/BRCA2 genetic mutation, a common risk factor for breast cancer. 

4. Pap smear 

Dr. Michelle Glasgow, gynecologic oncologist, said routine cancer screening is very important; however, not all screening tests are required yearly. 

“For instance, pap smears, which are used to screen for cervical cancer, are generally recommended for women every three years, or every five years if an HPV (human papillomavirus) test is used,” said Dr. Glasgow. 

“This screening test should begin at the age of 21. Pap smears may be required more frequently if your last result was abnormal.” 

If you are between the ages of 9 and 45, get an HPV vaccine, which can help protect you against six HPV-related cancers. 

5. Colonoscopy 

For average-risk populations, medical oncologist Dr. Karthi Subbannan recommends a colonoscopy every five to 10 years, beginning at age 45, for colorectal cancer screening. 

Regular colonoscopies detect polyps before they become cancerous. Colorectal cancer is highly preventable, even curable when caught early. 

But Dr. Subbannan said there is a trend toward increased colorectal cancer in younger populations. “Unfortunately, what happens in younger patients is that when they have symptoms like a change in bowels or rectal bleeding, cancer is not the first thing they think about, specifically if they don’t have a family history.” 

Individuals at high risk — those with a personal or family history of colon polyps or colorectal cancer, or a personal history of ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease — should talk to their doctor about early screening that would also include genetic testing. 

6. Lung cancer screening 

“The most common symptoms of lung cancer are cough, increasing shortness of breath or reduced exercise tolerance, and fatigue,” said Dr. Howard Silverboard, medical director of thoracic oncology and the Lung Cancer Screening Program at the Northside. 

“However, we really want to diagnose lung cancer before a patient develops symptoms because once a patient already has symptoms … they often already have advanced disease.” 

Lung cancer screening using CT has become the national standard based on findings from clinical trials and other research-related publications. 

The most important thing you can do to prevent cancer is to know your body, recognize changes and report them to your provider when they occur. 

Keep a detailed personal and family health history. Then, talk with your provider about what screenings and lifestyle changes are right for you. 

The Northside Hospital Cancer Institute High Risk Program provides specialized care for individuals who may be at higher risk of developing cancer. A team of qualified oncology specialists offers expertise in high-risk screening protocols, promoting cancer prevention, facilitating early detection and providing ongoing surveillance. The program works with patients to evaluate their cancer risk and provide a personalized, evidence-based plan of care, which may include enhanced cancer screenings, genetic testing or lifestyle changes, along with regular follow-ups. 

Learn more about the Cancer Genetics and High Risk Programs at Northside. 


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