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Who should get cancer screenings?

From Dr. Mark Roh, Lee Health’s Chief Physician Executive of Oncology

It may sound scary, but certain cancer screenings should be a part of everyone’s yearly plan. Screening tests are performed before someone exhibits any symptoms to help find cancer early, when it is easier to treat and treatment is more likely to be successful.

A screening test checks for cancerous cells and abnormal cells that could become precancerous. Getting screening tests on a regular basis may find breast, cervical and colorectal (colon) cancers early. Lung cancer screening is recommended for people who are at high risk.

Breast cancer

Mammograms are a screening test that can help detect breast cancer. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), women who are 50 to 74 years old and are at average risk for breast cancer should get a mammogram every two years. Women who are 40 to 49 years old should talk to their health care provider about when to start and how often to get a mammogram. It’s also important to let your doctor know if you have a family history of breast cancer because they may want to begin mammograms before age 40.

Cervical cancer

A pap test performed by your primary care doctor or obstetrician-gynecologist (OB-GYN) can find abnormal cells in the cervix, which could turn into cancer. The HPV test looks for the human papillomavirus (HPV) that can cause abnormal cell changes. Pap tests can also detect cervical cancer early and when it’s caught early, it has a high success rate of being cured, since it takes about 10 years to develop into cervical cancer. For women who are 21 to 29 years old, it’s recommended to get a pap test every three years. If a woman is 30 years old or older, she can consider pap testing every five years if it is combined with testing for HPV. After age 65, a pap test may no longer be needed if there have been no signs of cervical precancer in the past, there has been a normal screening test for several years or if the cervix has been removed as part of a total hysterectomy for non-cancerous conditions, like fibroids.

Colorectal (colon) cancer

Colon cancer develops from precancerous polyps (abnormal growths) in the colon or rectum. Screening tests can find precancerous polyps, which can be removed before they turn into cancer. Screening tests can also find colorectal cancer early. The screening test for colon cancer is recommend for adults who are 45 to 75 years old. People who are older than 75 years old should consult their doctor about screenings and whether or not they’re still needed. Someone at risk for colon cancer should talk to their doctor about their options and getting tested earlier than 45 years old. Although the most known screening test is a colonoscopy, there are a variety of screening tests available and it’s best to talk to your doctor about which one is right for you.

Lung cancer

Yearly lung cancer screening with low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) is recommend for people who are 50 to 80 years old with a history of heavy smoking and who smoke now or have quit within the past 15 years. The only recommended screening test for lung cancer is a LDCT scan where the patient lies on a table and an X-ray machine uses a low dose of radiation to make detailed images of the lungs. The scan only takes a few minutes and is not painful. These screenings are no longer recommended after the patient turns 81 years old or has not smoked in 15 or more years.

Where to go for cancer care in Lee County?

Cancer screenings are the first step to potentially identifying serious health conditions. It’s important not to miss them because detecting cancer early is the key to a successful recovery. If you or someone you love has tested positive for any type of cancer, it’s important to know that you have high-quality care and support available in your own community.

Sometimes, not having to make long, grueling drives for care, surgeries, chemotherapy and followup appointments can make all the difference on a patient. Being in a comfortable environment and being as relaxed as possible will help the body heal and go a long way toward a positive mental state.

The Regional Cancer Center (RCC) at 8931 Colonial Center Drive in Fort Myers is staffed with oncologists, nurse navigators, a dietician, a genetics counselor, infusion services and more. The RCC also provides ongoing support groups and a cancer diagnosis and treatment plan tailored to meet each patient’s specific needs.

To expand oncology services to residents and visitors of south Lee and Collier counties, the Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation Cancer Clinic at the Bonita Health Center at Coconut Point will open later this year.

Located at 23450 Via Coconut Point in Estero, the Bonita Springs cancer clinic will offer the same services as its sister center in Fort Myers.

The new clinic will feature a 32-chair infusion center, four individual treatment rooms and 12 exam rooms. Advanced treatment options at the soon-to-be open center include immunotherapy, nuclear medical scan, PET scan, MRI-guided radiation therapy, minimally invasive surgery and clinical trials.