When life gets busy, it’s easy to let routine cancer screenings get pushed to the bottom of your to-do list. But is getting screened for cancer really less important than getting an oil change or picking up the groceries?
It’s estimated that Americans missed more than 9 million cancer screenings in 2020 because of the effects of COVID-19. Today, many men still have not caught up on these important health checks.
If you’re one of those men, it’s time to ask your doctor about the right cancer screenings for you. The US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends four types of cancer screening, with two that apply specifically to men.
“For men, colorectal and lung cancer screenings are recommended,” said Ronan Kelly, MD, MBA, chief of oncology for Baylor Scott & White Health – North Texas. “Most men should also consider prostate and skin cancer screenings with their doctor.”
Your primary care physician is your go-to for keeping you up to date on cancer screenings, so make sure you’re seeing your doctor every year.
Here’s what you need to know about the four most important screenings for men.
1. Colorectal cancer screening
Recently, colorectal cancer has received increased attention due to an uptick in cases in younger people—including high-profile athletes and actors in their 20s, 30s or 40s. In 2021, the USPSTF lowered the recommended age to start screening from 50 to 45. Those at high risk should start before 45.
If you are at average risk of colorectal cancer, you may choose a multitarget stool DNA test that looks for DNA and blood in the stool. This test can be done from home and sent off to a lab.
The most common (and most dreaded) colorectal cancer screening is a colonoscopy. This procedure uses a tiny camera to look for signs of cancer in the colon and can remove pre-cancerous polyps at the same time as screening—stopping cancer from developing.
There’s a lot of fear and dread surrounding colonoscopies, but they’re truly a quick, easy and effective screening option. They’re not as bad as you might think.
“While there are a couple of options for screening, colonoscopy is still the gold standard,” Dr. Kelly said. “However, it’s better to do something than nothing at all. If men and women followed the guidelines, we could save 33,000 lives in the United States each year.”
Learn more about colon cancer screenings, symptoms and treatments here.
2. Lung cancer screening
Lung cancer remains the leading cause of cancer-related death in Texas—with almost 1 in 4 cancer deaths occurring from lung cancer. For current smokers and some past smokers, the USPSTF recommends yearly screening with a low-dose CT scan, but only about 5% of eligible people are being screened for lung cancer.
To qualify for this screening, men should meet these criteria:
- 50 to 80 years old
- Have a smoking history of 20 pack years (packs per day x number of years smoked)
- Currently smoke or have quit within the past 15 years
- Have no symptoms of lung cancer
“Early screening is key, especially in former smokers, so we’ve launched a major campaign on low-dose CT screening,” Dr. Kelly said. “We want to let the community know about the availability of this screening so we can detect it early.”
Learn more about lung cancer risks and screenings here.
3. Prostate cancer
Some men may consider a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test to screen for prostate cancer. This blood test looks at the level of PSA in your blood, which can be an indicator of prostate cancer, as well as other prostate conditions.
According to the USPSTF, men ages 55 to 69 years old may choose PSA screening. But the choice to have periodic PSA screening should be an individual one.
“There are pros and cons to PSA testing,” Dr. Kelly said. “The challenge has been the number of false positives with PSA, so it’s important to follow the guidelines from the task force about individual choice.”
Talk to your doctor about whether PSA testing is a good move for you, or learn more about prostate cancer screenings here.
4. Skin cancer
Currently, the USPSTF does not make a recommendation on routine skin cancer screenings. However, this is another cancer screening where men should talk with their doctor to decide what’s right for them.
You should also be aware of the signs of skin cancer so you’ll know when to bring up a concern. Use the ABCDE rule and visit the doctor for any moles with:
- Asymmetry, where one side doesn’t match the other
- Border that is irregular, blurred or uneven
- Color that’s uneven
- Diameter larger than ¼ inch
- Evolving or changing in appearance
“Although there isn’t a national recommendation for skin cancer screening, we live in a climate in Texas where it’s important for people to know that an annual skin exam by a dermatologist is something they can consider,” Dr. Kelly said. “Skin cancer screening is also important for men who have a family history or a history of sunburns or using tanning beds.”
Find a dermatologist near you and get your skin cancer screening on the calendar today.
The future of cancer screening
Over the past few decades, our ability to detect and treat cancer has continued to improve. When men take cancer screening seriously, they can decrease the potential impact of some of the most common types of cancer today.
With regular screenings, you can give yourself the best odds at living a long, healthy, fulfilled life.
Researchers at Baylor Scott & White Health are involved in research to make the way we detect cancer even better. Instead of individual screenings for cancer—like a CT scan or colonoscopy—cancer screening may someday involve a single blood test that can look for dozens of types of cancer at once.
“The future of cancer screening is detecting cancer through circulating tumor DNA in the blood,” Dr. Kelly said. “While this is not FDA approved yet, here at Baylor Scott & White, we hope to play a pivotal role in this new era of cancer detection.”
Are you due for a cancer screening? Talk to your primary care physician or find one near you today.