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Posted September 26, 2022 by Sameer Mahesh, M.D.
Nearly 40 percent of individuals in this country will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives, according to the National Cancer Institute.
However, the good news is that many cancers can be found early before they have a chance to grow and spread. And, studies prove catching cancer early when it’s easier to treat improves patient outcomes.
For example, breast cancer that is found in the early stages has a 99 percent survival rate, but when found in later stages, the survival rate drops to 28 percent, according to the American Cancer Society. For colorectal cancer, the survival rate is 91 percent when found in the early stages compared to 14 percent when found in later stages.
Learn the steps you can take to be proactive with your health and talk to your healthcare provider. Summa Health reviews 5 easy things you can do to be proactive in your health and better determine your risk for cancer.
Get regular cancer screenings
Regular cancer screenings increase your chance of detecting certain cancers early when they are easier to treat. In fact, screening tests can help find a cancer before the person experiences any symptoms. If pre-cancers or cancers are found, doctors can treat them early before they have a chance to spread.
The American Cancer Society supports screening tests for breast, cervical, colorectal, prostate and lung cancers based on your age, sex and ethnicity. Talk to your healthcare provider about which screening tests are right for you.
Know your family medical history
Understanding your family’s medical history may be can help in understanding your risk of developing hereditary conditions and diseases, including cancer. It offers you and your healthcare provider clues if you might have a higher risk than the general population.
For example, if you have a close family member with breast cancer, you are at an increased risk for developing the disease yourself, especially if more than one close relative has had the disease, or if a family member got it at a younger age than usual.
Certain screenings, such as mammograms or a colonoscopy, may be recommended at an earlier age or more frequently if your family history points to a higher risk for certain cancers. Genetic testing also may be recommended.
Consider genetic testing
Inherited genetic mutations or abnormal genes can play a major role in about 5 to 10 percent of all cancers, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Genetic tests for hereditary cancer can tell whether you have any of these abnormal genes and estimate your chance of developing cancer in your lifetime. While it can’t answer for certain whether you will develop cancer, it can reveal if you’re at a higher risk than most people.
Genetic tests are available for many types of cancer, including breast, ovarian, colon, prostate and pancreatic.
Genetic testing may be recommended if you have three or more relatives diagnosed with a certain cancer and also if the results can help you take steps to reduce your risk, such as surgery, medication or lifestyle changes.
Establish regular checkups with your primary care provider
Regular appointments and building a relationship with your primary care provider, or PCP, is an important way to be proactive in your health. Think of your PCP as your partner in becoming your healthiest self.
Your PCP’s job is to focus on your vitals, such as weight, blood pressure and cholesterol numbers, to assess your health. Based on your measurements, age, gender, family history and lifestyle, your PCP may recommend lifestyle changes to decrease your risk of certain cancers or important preventative screenings.
It’s also an opportunity to discuss something that’s bothering you at the first sign of a problem, whether it’s pain, trouble sleeping or other physical ailments. It could point to a condition that needs to be addressed. Additionally, your healthcare provider can review your family history with you and coordinate further evaluation if you may be at higher risk.
Modify the risk factors you can
While you can’t control whether you develop cancer, you can change some of your risk factors, also known as modifiable risk factors. You can help reduce your cancer risk by choosing the healthy lifestyle options, including:
Use Electronic Medical Record Portals to Track Your Health Visits
Using electronic medical record portals, such as MyChart, also is a great way to be proactive in your health. MyChart can provide reminders and due dates for important preventive screenings. It also allows you to ask your provider questions about any symptoms you may be having and request appointments online.Being proactive in your health and consistent about getting the recommended cancer screenings could save your life. For more information on cancer screenings and risk factors, visit summahealth.org/cancer.