By: Jackie Jones
Even if you feel perfectly healthy, regular health screenings are important to catch health issues before they become major problems.
For black Americans particularly, screenings to detect the early signs of cancer are critical to reduce mortality from the disease.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer among black women, prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in black men, and colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer for both African American men and women. Many of these cancers are not detected because of either a lack of access or a reluctance to get screenings. In some instances, people don’t go to the doctor until they are in severe discomfort – when it is sometimes too late to stop or cure the disease.
The American Cancer Society has programs specifically designed for racial and ethnic groups, such as Aconseje a su Amiga and Asian Tell A Friend, geared to educate Hispanic and Asian women about breast cancer, as well as Body and Soul, a collaboration with the National Cancer Institute that reaches out to African-American churches to promote healthy diets to reduce cancer risk.
The society also offers the Great American Health Challenge, a year-round cancer prevention program.
Patients should consult their physicians to determine how often they should be screened for various cancers, and that frequency can vary based on age, family history and other factors, but the society does offer some general guidelines:
Breast Cancer: Even with the recommendation from a federal task force to the contrary, the American Cancer Society still urges women aged 40 and older to get an annual mammogram and annual clinical breast examination. Women at higher risk because of family history, genetic tendency, past breast cancer) should talk to their doctors about whether to start mammogram screenings before 40, having additional tests, such as breast ultrasound and MRI, or more frequent exams.
Colon Cancer: Men and women at average risk should begin screening at age 50. There are a range of tests that are recommended, including some that detect polyps before they turn cancerous. The frequency of the screening is based on the patient’s risk level, but those with average risk may be screened every five to 10 years, depending upon the doctor’s recommendation.
Prostate Cancer: A PSA blood test annually is recommended beginning at age 50. Men with a strong family history of prostate cancer – one or more immediate relatives have been diagnosed with the disease at an early age – should begin testing at age 45.
For more information, the society has a toll-free hotline staffed 24/7 that provides information (1-800-ACS-2345), as well as a Web site – www.cancer.org – that provides details.