This month, we would like to focus on a few cancer screening options that you may have not been aware are available. According to the National Cancer Institute, in 2016, an estimated 1,685,210 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in the United States, and 595,690 people will die from the disease. The most common cancers in 2016 are projected to be breast cancer, lung and bronchus cancer, prostate cancer, colon and rectum cancer, bladder cancer, melanoma of the skin, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, thyroid cancer, kidney and renal pelvis cancer, leukemia, endometrial cancer, and pancreatic cancer. In this newsletter, we will focus on screening tests for lung cancer, prostate cancer, and colon cancer.
Lung Cancer Screening
Lung cancer is the leading cause of death from cancer in the U.S. and the number of deaths from lung cancer in women is increasing. Sadly, lung cancer is usually only detected after symptoms appear, when the disease is at its latest stages. The EarlyCDT-Lung Test is a simple blood test that helps in the early detection of lung cancer in high risk patients who have yet to experience any symptoms. It is able to detect your risk of lung cancer sooner and with higher specificity than the standard diagnostic imaging test, the CT scan. If lung cancer is detected in the early stages, the survival rate triples from 16% to 54%. Anyone is a candidate for this test but those at higher risk include:
- Long-term smokers and ex-smokers (20 pack years or more)
- Patients with indeterminate pulmonary nodules
- Immediate family history
- Emphysema or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
- Environmental exposures
Prostate Cancer Screening
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men in the United States, after skin cancer. It is the second leading cause of death from cancer in men. Prostate cancer often has no early symptoms. Advanced prostate cancer can cause men to urinate more often or have a weaker flow of urine, but these symptoms can also be caused by benign prostate conditions. Prostate cancer usually grows very slowly. Most men with prostate cancer are older than 65 years and do not die from the disease. Finding and treating prostate cancer before symptoms occur may not improve health or help you live longer. Testing for prostate-specific antigen (PSA) is one of the most common prostate cancer screening methods used today. Prostate cancer causes changes to the prostate gland structure that can lead to increased “leakage” of PSA into the bloodstream. But increased PSA levels can also be caused by non-cancerous conditions such as enlargement of the prostate (known as benign prostatic hyperplasia, or BPH). This means that PSA testing often suggests that cancer is present when there is none. It also detects a high number of slow-growing tumors that otherwise may persist for many years with no ill effects.
The Prostate Health Index (phi) is a convenient blood test that is 3 times more specific than PSA in detecting prostate cancer than PSA and free PSA alone. This test can also help differentiate prostate cancer from benign conditions and possibly reduce 26% of unnecessary biopsies for men with elevated PSA levels within a certain range.
Colorectal Cancer Screening
Colorectal cancer is the third most common type of cancer in men and women in the United States. Colorectal cancer often begins as a growth called a polyp, which may form on the inner wall of the colon or rectum. Some polyps become cancer over time. Finding and removing polyps can prevent colorectal cancer. Deaths from colorectal cancer have decreased with the use of colonoscopies and fecal occult blood tests, which check for blood in the stool.
Every day, the lining of your colon naturally sheds cells. If you have cancer or precancer in your colon, abnormal cells shed into the colon – along with normal cells – where they are picked up by stool as it passes through. Cologuard uses advanced stool DNA technology to find elevated levels of altered DNA and/or hemoglobin in these abnormal cells, which could be associated with cancer or precancer.
There is no one factor that leads to colon cancer, but certain factors may increase your risk:
- 50 years old or older
- Family history of colon cancer
- Certain genetic alterations
- A diet rich in fat and red meat
- Heavy alcohol use
- Diabetes, obesity, and lack of exercise