Preventing Cancer Through Screenings
In the battle against breast, cervical and colorectal cancers, screening and early detection are our most powerful weapons. Research shows the tests used to check for these cancers—mammograms, Pap tests and colonoscopy—can detect them in their earliest stages, when the chance of being cured is very high.
Breast cancer is the second most common cancer in women (after skin cancer). A mammogram, which is an X-ray of the breast, can detect tumors before they can be felt or cause symptoms.
Juhi Asad, DO, a breast cancer surgeon at Lutheran Medical Center, says women should decide when to start having mammograms after a discussion with their primary care physician. “It will depend on your family history and your personal risk factors, such as postmenopausal obesity, reproductive history and history of abnormal breast biopsies,” she says.
She adds that breast cancer surgery has greatly improved in recent years. “We now have many more options for achieving a natural cosmetic result, including nipple-sparing mastectomy and less invasive lumpectomy that preserves the shape of the breast,” she says.
Gynecological cancers affect the female reproductive organs, including the cervix, ovaries, uterus, vagina and vulva. In the case of cervical cancer, Pap tests, which look for precancerous cells, and the vaccine for human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes most cervical cancers, have been highly effective in reducing the incidence and death rates.
Glenn Bigsby, DO, a gynecological oncologist at Lutheran, notes that there are no effective screening tests for the other gynecological cancers. “That’s why it’s so important for women to stay alert for any potential symptoms, including bloating, cramping or changes in the menstrual cycle,” he says. “The most important one is bleeding after a woman has gone through menopause—that is considered cancer unless proven otherwise.”
Dr. Bigsby performs robotic hysterectomy to treat advanced uterine cancer. “Traditional hysterectomy used to involve at least a three-day hospital stay and up to six weeks of recovery,” he says. “Now patients usually go home the next day and resume normal activity in two weeks.”
Cancers of the colon and rectum remain a leading cause of cancer deaths, but they don’t have to be. Experts estimate that if everyone started regular screening tests at age 50, at least 60 percent of colorectal cancer deaths could be avoided.
The most effective test for colorectal cancer is colonoscopy, in which the doctor uses a thin, flexible tube to check for cancer or polyps (precancerous growths). During colonoscopy, the doctor can remove most polyps and some cancers in their earliest stages.
Treatment options have improved for advanced colorectal cancer, as well, says Eben Strobos, MD, a colorectal cancer surgeon at Lutheran who specializes in robotic surgery.
“Lutheran has the most advanced medical robot available, the da Vinci Xi® Surgical System, which allows the surgeon to view the surgical site at a high magnification and remove any cancerous tissue through tiny incisions while sparing healthy tissue,” he says. “Patients generally leave the hospital within three days and have excellent long-term outcomes.”
Genetic counseling is available at Lutheran. A physician’s referral is needed for this service. Call 303-425-8191 for more information.