What types of cancer can I screen for?
Several types of cancer, including breast, gynecological, and colorectal, have inherited genetic risk factors. About 5-10% of cancers may be caused by hereditary changes in the genes. If you have multiple family members who have had the same types of cancer, a relative with cancer diagnosis before age 50, or are Ashkenazi Jewish with a family history of breast cancer, genetic screening may be a good idea for you. By testing your DNA, doctors can determine whether you are at higher risk for cancer, leaving you better prepared for early detection and preventative care.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer that affects women. During your annual exam, your gynecologist can perform a breast exam to feel for any lumps, enlarged lymph nodes, and look for skin changes. Depending on your age and family history, your gynecologist may recommend imaging studies such as mammogram or ultrasound performed on a regular basis. Occasionally, for women at very high risk, your gynecologist may refer you to a cancer genetic counselor to discuss options for genetic testing.
Unfortunately, there is no good screening test for ovarian cancer. Although ultrasounds and bloodwork are often cited as screenings for early cancer, these tests often yield a false positive result, and undergoing a procedure based on these results may cause more harm than good. Based on your family history, your gynecologist may refer you to a cancer genetic counselor, as there are certain genetic disorders that can increase your risk of ovarian cancer. Your gynecologist may also recommend testing if you have symptoms such as bloating, abdominal pain, or changes in appetite.
Colorectal cancer is also known simply as colon cancer, though the colon, rectum, or both may be affected. Family history and genetic syndromes including familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) and hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (also known as Lynch syndrome) are increased risk factors for colorectal cancer. The most common screening test for colorectal cancer is a colonoscopy, which is recommended for adults between the ages of 50 and 75 or as a follow-up test if another type of screening yields an abnormal result. Other screening tests for colorectal cancer include stool tests, CT colonoscopy (or virtual colonoscopy), and flexible sigmoidoscopy.
What is Genetic Cancer Screening?
Cancer is an overgrowth of cells which causes a tumor. Tumors can be malignant or benign— malignant tumors are cancerous while benign tumors are not. Cancer is dangerous if left untreated. It happens for many different reasons and in many different areas of the body, and can be detected early through a screening process designed to look for abnormal cells.
A screening test is designed to look for cancer (or pre-cancer) in early stages— before any symptoms develop— when it can be most easily treated. Screening tests are also designed to be minimally invasive, meaning you do not have to undergo a higher risk procedure. Cancer screenings are sometimes routine for everyone, while other times they are performed if you have specific risk factors for types of cancer.
Why is Genetic Cancer Screening Important?
Cancer screenings can detect cancer at its earliest stages if you undergo screenings regularly. In its earliest stages when you may not even experience symptoms, cancer is most treatable. Especially in certain kinds of cancer, the chances of effective treatment begin to decline over time. Even in the case of pre-cancer, your gynecologist can regularly track problematic areas so that you can take preventative steps.
How Can My Gynecologist Help?
Although your primary physician can help you prevent many types of cancers, your gynecologist can perform screenings for some cancers that are specific to women. Here are some important screenings to discuss with your gynecologist during an appointment.
Schedule an Appointment
Cancer screening should be a regular part of your yearly care from your gynecologist or physician. Our expert team can perform accurate screenings and ensure you know what steps to take to prevent and detect different types of cancer. To get started, contact our New York City office by calling or filling out our online form.
For more information:
Understanding Genetic Testing for Hereditary Cancer
Frequently Asked Questions
What cancers are genetic?
Gene mutations related to an increased risk have been identified for many types of cancer. Some include bone cancer, breast cancer, colorectal cancer, fallopian tube cancer, ovarian cancer, pancreatic cancer, skin cancer, thyroid cancer, or uterine cancer.
What is pre-cancer?
Pre-cancer refers to cells that grow abnormally, resulting in a size, shape, or appearance that looks different from normal, healthy cells of their type. However, these cells are not yet cancerous, and may never develop into cancer.
What cancer screenings do gynecologists perform?
Your gynecologist will screen for cervical cancer through a Pap smear. A routine appointment with your gynecologist often also includes a breast exam to screen for breast cancer.
Do I need a cancer screening?
It is recommended that patients have regular screenings for breast cancer, colorectal cancer, cervical cancer, and prostate cancer. Patients who are at a higher risk due to family history or genetics should also have endometrial cancer and lung cancer screenings.
How can I prevent cancer?
Even if you are at an increased risk for cancer genetically, you can still lower your risk for cancer by avoiding tobacco use, maintaining a healthy diet and exercise routine, staying at a healthy weight, protecting your skin from the sun, practicing safe sex, getting HPV and hepatitis vaccines, and having regular screenings with your doctor.
What is considered a family history of cancer?
A family history of cancer applies to those who have a first-degree relative (parent, sibling, or child) or a second-degree relative (aunt, uncle, nephew, niece, or grandparent) who has been diagnosed with cancer. Common hereditary cancers can present with different types of cancer. Therefore a thorough and detailed history is important.
When should I be screened for colon cancer?
According to the American Cancer Society recommendations patients should have routine colon cancer screenings between the ages of 45-75, The US Preventive Task Force recommends screening to begin at age 50. For those who are at a higher risk, your doctor may recommend screenings at an earlier age.