Cancer & Caregiving

The Decline of Cancer Screenings: Why Preventative Measures are Still Crucial

Written By:
Jan 28, 2013
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Written By: Faith Franz,
January 28, 2013

In recent years (and especially since the passing of the Affordable Care Act), the health care model has shifted more towards preventative care.

Even still, the demand for cancer screenings — one of the most important preventative measures — has been on the decline.

Most Americans don’t meet the recommended cancer screening goals, according to a new University of Miami study. And those who do meet the guidelines were more likely to already be cancer survivors.

The study, which appears in the December 2012 issue of Frontiers in Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention, tracked nearly 175,000 adults from 1997 to 2010. Researchers matched their preventative screening habits to the American Cancer Society’s screening guidelines.

The highest level of compliance was for colorectal cancer; 54 percent of the study group met the protocol for these screenings. For every other cancer, however, screening participation was below 50 percent (the government’s goal for their Healthy People 2010 program).

Mesothelioma Screenings

The American Cancer Society’s mesothelioma screening guidelines state:

“There are no widely recommended screening tests for this cancer in people who are not at increased risk, [but] for people with known exposure to asbestos, some doctors recommend imaging tests such as chest X-rays or computed tomography (CT) scans.”

These measures can identify pre-cancerous developments (such as scarring and cellular inflammation) that could one day turn into tumors.

Currently, most mesothelioma patients are diagnosed long after these pre-cancerous developments appear. Unfortunately, by the time they do receive a diagnosis, they are often dealing with a late-stage illness, and their treatment options are drastically reduced.

The Occupational Link

The study also found an intriguing correlation between occupation and screening frequency.

White collar workers and workers in service occupations (such as chefs, teachers and physical therapists) were most likely to participate in routine cancer screenings. Blue collar workers had significantly lower screening rates.

At the same time, blue collar workers have significantly higher rates of occupationally induced cancers, including mesothelioma and lung cancer.

Occupations such as construction, shipbuilding, plumbing, metalworking and car repair have some of the highest asbestos-related cancer rates. Men between the ages of 45 and 65 (who worked in these occupations when asbestos was most prevalent), have the highest risk of developing mesothelioma, and the MD Anderson Cancer Center suggests mesothelioma screenings to these individuals.

The Future of Mesothelioma Screenings

Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer and executive vice president of the American Cancer Society, adds a caveat to the study.

“The obstacles to getting screening are going to change over the next several years, so think of this study as more of a look back at what was going on in the last 10 years and not a predictor of what might happen in the next 10 years.”

For mesothelioma patients, the future of screenings may eventually include blood tests, which currently exist but are not yet efficient enough to be a sole early diagnosis method.

For now, though, doctors are hesitant to recommend mesothelioma screenings. They explain that early detection does result in early treatment, but treatment is still not advanced enough to dramatically alter the outcome of the disease.

However, as researchers continue to work toward more effective treatment, screenings may become more valuable. Even the biggest skeptics cannot deny that early stage at diagnosis is a positive prognostic factor, and further capitalizing on the advantages of early diagnosis may ultimately save lives.

How often do you do cancer screenings? Let us know in the comments below or on Facebook.

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