Early Diagnosis is Key to Overcoming Cancer

According to the National Cancer Institute, at some point in their lifetime, more than 38 percent of men and women will be diagnosed with cancer. Thankfully, a cancer diagnosis doesn’t always mean the worst. Thanks to early detection techniques including screenings, most common cancers can be identified and successfully treated.

Early diagnosis saves lives.

Shaju Shamsuddin, M.D., medical director of radiation oncology for Meritus Medical Center’s John Marsh Cancer Center, explains that there are specific cancer screening guidelines and techniques for each type of cancer.

“In general, a patient’s primary care physician or gynecologist performs or schedules screening procedures according to standard guidelines,” says Dr. Shamsuddin. He says the most common screenings are for breast, cervical and colorectal cancers.

Overview of cancer screenings.

Although Dr. Shamsuddin recommends that patients always consult with their primary care provider for individualized recommendations, health professionals commonly follow cancer screening guidelines from the American Cancer Society and The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, explained below:

  • Breast cancer screening
  • Women at average risk should be offered mammography screening starting at age 40.
  • If no screening is initiated in a woman’s forties, it should start no later than age 50.
  • Women at average risk should have a mammography every one to two years based on an informed, shared, decision-making process.
  • Women at average risk should continue mammography until at least age 75. Beyond that, the decision should be based on a shared, decision-making process.
  • Cervical cancer screening
  • Women younger than age 21 do not need to be tested.
  • Women ages 21-29 should have a pap smear every three years.
  • Recommendations for women ages 30-65 are to have a pap smear and HPV test

every five years or just a pap smear every three years.

  • No screenings are necessary after age 65 if there is no history of cervical cancer or a recently negative pap test or co-test.
  • Colorectal cancer screening
  • Men and women ages 50-75 should undergo regular screening by colonoscopy or stool-based tests.
  • Prostate cancer screening
  • There are very specific guidelines for this type of cancer, so the decision to be screened should be a discussed with a patient’s primary care provider.
  • Lung cancer screening
  • Low-dose computed tomography or LDCT is now available following lung cancer screening counseling and a shared decision-making visit per the Centers for

Medicare & Medicaid Services or CMS.

  • This is an annual screening.
  • Patients are ages 55–77.
  • Patient should be asymptomatic.
  • Patient’s tobacco smoking history includes at least 30-pack years, where a one-pack year is a person smoking one pack (20 cigarettes) per day for one year.
  • Patient should be a current smoker or quit smoking within the last 15 years.

Some actions help prevent all cancers.

To help prevent all types of cancer, consider these six decisions:

  • Stop smoking.
  • Maintain a healthy weight with good dietary choices.
  • Stay active and exercise.
  • Avoid excessive sun exposure.
  • Get cancer screenings as recommended.
  • Let your health care providers know of any family history of cancer.

“We’re trying to find cancer early when it’s more curable,” says Dr. Shamsuddin. “Taking proactive steps helps us help you.”

Meritus Health, at 11116 Medical Campus Road, east of Hagerstown, is the largest health system in the area, providing hospital and outpatient services to the community. Subscribe to Your Health Matters, a monthly e-newsletter with important health information, at