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St. Clair Health Physicians Discuss Importance of Annual Cancer Screenings

By Kevin Brown

For many, challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic slowed or even halted the important attention their health care needs. Simply put: when annual screenings are missed, you are at a higher risk for illness and disease going undetected.

Three physicians with St. Clair Health recently spoke about the importance of regular screenings for breast, prostate and colorectal cancers: Tara L. Grahovac, M.D., breast surgeon; Arthur D. Thomas, M.D., urologist; and Scott A. Holekamp, M.D., colorectal surgeon.

Breast Cancer
According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), about 281,550 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women in the United States in 2021.1

“It is very important for women to follow the guidelines for annual screenings for breast cancer,” said Dr. Grahovac. “Not only do regular screenings detect breast cancer at earlier stages, earlier intervention helps to improve survival rates.”

The ACS recommends that women ages 40 to 44 should have the choice to start annual breast cancer screening with mammograms (x-rays of the breast) if they wish to do so. Women age 45 to 54 should get mammograms every year, and women 55 and older should switch to mammograms every two years, or continue yearly screening. Screening should continue as long as a woman is in good health and is expected to live 10 more years or longer.2

Genetics plays a role in breast cancer and women who have a significant family history of breast cancer could be at greater risk.

“A detailed risk assessment can be done at the time of your yearly mammogram that can help quantify your risk of developing breast cancer. If your risk is high, then additional evaluation with breast MRI and/or genetic testing may be offered by your physician. Preventative measures can also be discussed at this time,” said Dr. Grahovac.

St. Clair Health offers a full range of services at their Breast Care Centers located at outpatient facilities in Bethel Park and Peters Township. For more information, visit www.stclair.org or call (412) 942-7800.

Prostate Cancer
Prostate cancer is one of the most common cancers in men. According to the ACS, it is estimated that 248,530 new cases of prostate cancer will be diagnosed in the United States in 2021.3

Screening which helps to detect prostate cancer includes a PSA—or prostate-specific antigen blood test. In addition, a physician could conduct a digital rectal exam to palpate the prostate gland for changes which could indicate cancer. If a PSA blood test and digital exam show symptoms of cancer, then a needle biopsy of the prostate gland is usually performed.

“I recommend that men over age 50 should have an annual PSA blood test and digital exam,” said Dr. Thomas. “It is important to check this annually since prostate cancer has a much higher survival rate when detected in earlier stages.”

There is also a genetic factor in prostate cancer and studies have shown if a man has a family history of prostate cancer and/or is African-American, then screening could start at an earlier age, such as age 40 or 45.

“Although age is certainly a risk factor for prostate cancer, those who have a family history of prostate cancer and/or are African-American should consider being checked at earlier ages,” said Dr. Thomas.

St. Clair Health offers a Prostate Care Program which provides experienced urologists, medical and radiation oncologists, all of whom are specially trained in the care and treatment of prostate disease. The program also offers free prostate cancer screenings. For more information, visit www.stclair.org or call (412) 942-4100.

Colorectal Cancer
Colorectal cancer, which starts in the colon or rectum, is the third most common cancer and the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in men and women according to the ACS.4

“Colonoscopy remains the gold standard for colorectal screening,” said Dr. Holekamp.

During a colonoscopy, a camera is inserted into the rectum while the patient is sedated. The physician examines the rectum and colon for small growths called polyps, along with other signs of cancer. While not all polyps are cancerous, some can become cancerous over time. During the colonoscopy, the physician will remove the polyp or take biopsies of other suspicious areas. “If, for any reason, a patient cannot undergo a colonoscopy, the patient should talk to their doctor about other radiologic or stool-based options,” Dr. Holekamp added.

The most significant risk factors for colorectal cancer are age, inflammatory bowel disease, and family history. Patients should remember that screening is necessary because even with no risk factors or symptoms, a patient may still harbor precancerous polyps or early cancers.

“People with an average risk for colorectal should start regular screenings at age 45,” said Dr. Holekamp. “For those with known risk factors, screening could start earlier. If you have an abnormal stool-based test result, then you should follow that up with a colonoscopy.”

If detected in its earlier stages, colorectal cancer can be successfully treated.

“The key to a better outcome is early detection,” said Dr. Holekamp.

If you have delayed cancer screenings or put off other health tests during the pandemic, it is important to schedule tests as soon as possible. If you are not sure which tests you need to have, consult your primary care physician or a specialist. If you need to locate a physician, visit www.stclair.org or call (412) 942-6192.

1, 2, 3, 4 American Cancer Society, www.cancer.org



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