The Age of Reason – When is the Right Time for Cancer Screening Exams?
The recommendations for cancer screening exams have come a long way over the last few decades. More and more scientific research shows that early detection aids in helping people eliminate cancerous tumors and lesions sooner so that they may continue living long and full lives. Yet, cancer screening age recommendations aren’t necessarily a one-size-fits-all proposition. Understanding when the right time for you to screen for specific cancer types can help you make the most informed and proactive decisions about your health.
On average, the age of prostate cancer diagnosis in men is 66. And while the development of prostate cancer in men under 40 is rare, screening for men should begin well before age 60 so that a baseline “normal” PSA (prostate-specific antigen) level can be tracked and charted over time. Elevated PSA levels over time are one potential indicator of the need to test for prostate cancer. For men with a first-degree relative (mother, father, siblings) diagnosed with prostate or breast cancer, or repressive cancer, screening for prostate cancer should begin at age 40. If there is no family history of prostate or breast cancer, prostate cancer screening should start at age 50.
Prostate cancer is a significant disease that should be screened for. Men should proactively ask their primary care physicians to screen for this disease. Some primary care physicians believe that it is not necessary to screen for prostate cancer. However, they also understand that if the patient requests it, they are obligated to pursue the screening. Furthermore, low testosterone screening should also be performed on men beyond age 45. Low vitamin D levels are also relatively prevalent in American Society, and therefore, it is essential to track them too.
Of course, none of the above screening recommendations say that men should avoid overall health screenings until their 40s or 50s. On the contrary, general health screenings, or annual physicals, including basic blood tests, physical examinations, and a comprehensive history, should start at age 30 for both men and women. Overall, health screenings can be accomplished by seeing a primary care physician.
While cancer screenings are of specific importance, we know now that in today’s society, the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, and generalized inflammation, begins at an early age. Therefore, screening for the existence of inflammation in the body, including inflammatory markers, diabetes, and elevated cholesterol, can now be screened and addressed in people in their 20s and 30s as a preventive measure. For people in the 30 to 40 age group, while the above screening is still essential, screening for breast cancer in women is also important.
In younger women, overall wellness exams should include preventive cancer screenings which routinely check for cervical cancer, HPV (human papillomavirus,) and breast cancer. In younger men, screening should consist of testicular examinations for testicular cancer.
The medical community’s current understanding of the damaging effects of inflammation on various organs in the body has come a long way. Therefore, new blood tests looking for inflammatory markers are available. We know that markers of inflammation are also found in patients with obesity and cardiovascular disease. Inflammation can also increase the risk of developing some types of cancer, so it’s essential for people to get those annual checkups at younger ages as we help them to understand their bodies and how to keep them healthy for a lifetime.
(Dr. Ramin’s email answers were provided on 7/10/23)