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What You Need to Know. What You Can Do.
What are some ways to detect cancer at an early stage?

Learning Objective

Upon completion of this section, you will be able to

  • Explain some ways to detect cancer at an early stage.

Introduction

Sometimes exposures to toxic substances cannot be avoided. Certain diagnostic procedures will not reduce the exposure to substances in the environment but may detect cancers at an early stage before they spread to other parts of the body.

Detecting Cancers at an Early Stage

  • Tell your health care provider about the chemicals you use at work or at home. With this information, your health care provider can perform appropriate medical screening tests for early detection of cancer.
  • Ask your physician if increased cancer risks are associated with your family or personal medical history or medical drugs you are taking. He or she may advise appropriate screening procedures.
  • Get a screening test regularly for these cancers:
    • Breast: A mammogram, an X-ray of the breast, is the best method of finding breast cancer before symptoms appear. Several organizations recommend mammography screening every 1 to 2 years after age 40. Women at higher than average risk of breast cancer should seek expert advice about screening before age 40 and about the frequency of screening.
    • Cervix: The Pap test or Pap smear is the most successful screening tool used to screen for cancer of the cervix. Cells are collected from the cervix and examined under a microscope to detect cancer or changes that may lead to cancer. Many doctors recommend yearly Pap tests. Less frequent screening is recommended by some organizations for women with at least three consecutive negative exams.
    • Colon and Rectum: A number of screening tests are used to find colon and rectal cancer. If a person has a family medical history of colorectal cancer or is over the age of 50, a doctor may suggest one or more of these tests:
      • The fecal occult blood test checks for small amounts of blood in the stool;
      • A sigmoidoscopy is the use of a lighted tube to examine the rectum and lower colon;
      • A colonoscopy is performed to see the entire colon and rectum.

        With either a sigmoidoscopy or a colonoscopy, abnormal tissue can be removed and examined under a microscope.

      As new information becomes available, guidelines are constantly revised for the age and frequency of screening tests. To find out more, see the Web site: cancer.gov/cancer_information/testing.

  • Be alert for changes in your body. Cancer may cause a variety of symptoms. Here are some:
    • Thickening or lump in any part of body,
    • Obvious change in a wart or mole,
    • A sore that does not heal,
    • Nagging cough or hoarseness,
    • Changes in bowel or bladder habits,
    • Indigestion or difficulty swallowing,
    • Unexplained changes in weight, and
    • Unusual bleeding or discharge

    Cancer DOES NOT always cause these symptoms. It is important to see a doctor about these or other physical changes that continue for some time. Because certain cancers have no obvious symptoms, routine physical exams are recommended.

  • Stay informed and be proactive.
    • Ask your doctor questions.
    • If you suspect that you are exposed to a carcinogen in your work or home environment, try to find out more. Use the resources at the end of the training to contact the agencies responsible for protecting the environment.
    • Get involved in activities aimed at reducing our exposure to cancer-causing substances. Government agencies, industries, health professionals, and individuals can all contribute to reducing the risks in the environment. For example, to control the obesity epidemic, efforts to increase physical activity and promote healthy eating are needed in many parts of society, including families, schools, day care centers, food companies, restaurants, work sites, health care systems, and departments of transportation and city-planning.
Good Places to Look

For local environmental issues:
www.cdc.gov/mmwr/international/relres.html
For workplace issues:
www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/chemical-safety
For health effects of ingredients in common household products:
householdproducts.nlm.nih.gov

Key Points

  • Tell your health care provider about the chemicals you use at work or at home.
  • Ask your physician if increased cancer risks are associated with your family or personal medical history or with medical drugs you are taking.
  • Get a screening test regularly for breast, cervix, colon, and rectum cancers.
  • Be alert for changes in your body. Cancer may cause a variety of symptoms.
  • Stay informed and be proactive.
Progress Check

Choose the best answer.

1. Which of the following statements concerning detecting cancers at an early stage is INCORRECT

A. Men and women (as applicable) should get regular screening tests for breast, cervix, colon and rectum cancers.
B. Changes in bowel or bladder habits, indigestion or difficulty swallowing and unexplained changes in weight are sure signs of cancer.
C. You should tell your health care provider about the chemicals you use at work or at home.
D. You should ask your health care provider if increased cancer risks are associated with your family’s or your personal medical history or medical drugs you are taking.

Answer:

To review relevant content, see Detecting Cancers at an Early Stage in this section.

2. Which of the following statements concerning detecting cancer at an early stage is INCORRECT?

A. A mammogram is the best method of finding breast cancer before symptoms appear.
B. The Pap test or Pap smear is the most successful tool to screen for cancer of the cervix.
C. A fecal occult blood test, a sigmoidoscopy, or a colonoscopy are screening tests used to find colon and rectal cancer.
D. With a fecal occult blood test, a sigmoidoscopy or a colonoscopy, abnormal tissue can be removed and examined under a microscope.

Answer:

To review relevant content, see Detecting Cancers at an Early Stage in this section.


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