Breast, Cervical, Colon Cancer Screenings Explained

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If a woman's mother or sister had cervical cancer, her chances of developing the condition are 2 to 3 times higher than someone who comes from a family that did not have any cervical cancer.

When abnormal cells do appear after a Pap smear, many treatment options are available. Women with healthy immune systems are often advised to wait and watch for three to six months. The screening is then repeated to see if the infection has cleared up or further diagnostic measures need to be taken.

Colon Cancer An Issue for Women, Too

Women (and men) should begin regular screening for colon cancer at age 50. The U.S. Preventive Task Force recommends screening for the disease by using a colonoscopy, sigmoidoscopy or a highly sensitive fecal occult blood test.

The fecal occult blood test is able to find blood in the stool by placing a small sample of stool on a chemically treated card. If the card turns blue, there is blood in the stool, which can be a symptom of colorectal cancer. The simple test is the least invasive of the three and should be done every year.

A flexible sigmoidoscopy is when a physician uses a lighted tube that is used to look at the interior walls of the rectum and part of the colon. The sigmoidoscospy should be done every five years.

And the colonoscopy, dreaded by some, but important to all, should be done every 10 years. A physician uses a tube to look at the interior walls of the rectum and entire colon to check for polyps and lesions.

While the colonoscopy can be uncomfortable for some, doctors say it is so important to get the proper testing, since colon cancer has a very high survival rate if found early.

To put it bluntly, Wallace said: "Colonoscopy after 50 saves lives and mammograms save lives."

While all women should follow screening recommendations for optimal health, Wallace said it's important for women to know that women are empowered to make many of the most important changes and healthy lifestyle choices.

"Women need to rely on themselves for their health," said Wallace. "Keep your body weight where it was when you graduated healthy, eat healthy and make time to exercise. I think we've gotten to a technological society where we want everyone to do that stuff for us."

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