Of all of the tests that screen for disease, no other test has been as efficient as the pap smear. According to the American Cancer Society, death from cervical cancer has been reduced by about 74 percent, and the numbers continue to decline every year. But as far as screening goes, this is the best it gets.
Screening for prostate cancer does not have the same rate of success as the pap smear, neither do mammograms or colonoscopies. Mammograms effectiveness has been a topic of hot debate, some claiming early detection has saved lives, whereas other professionals don’t agree.
In a 2005 study analysis suggests that mammograms prevent breast cancer death by 15 percent. That means that a 60 year old who gets regular mammograms reduces her risk in the next decade from 7 per 1,000 to 6 per 1,000.
A colonoscopy allows doctors to remove polyps that could become cancerous. The best estimates suggest that colonoscopy can cut the risk of death from colon cancer by 60 percent. Except that the risk of dying from colon cancer isn’t that great. Generally, a woman has a 2.1 percent risk of dying of colorectal cancer. The average man’s risk is 2.3 percent. So, at these percentages it drops the total death by about 0.9 percent, a benefit yes, but is it big enough to outweigh other considerations?
Whether to screen or not depends on many factors such as your genetic predisposition, how old you are, what other diseases you might have, and what you value most in terms of your health. In other words, the tests come with risks too such as a possible colon perforation, a risk which goes up with age.
Some of the reasons a person might decide that screening is right for them:
You know you have a risky mutation such as BRCA’s, which are known to increase the risk of breast and ovarian cancer.
If you’ve already had cancer, you have a slightly greater chance of developing another, unrelated cancer
You feel emotionally better when you have regular screenings.
You have felt a lump, or some other concern and you feel you are too young and have too many responsibilities to take any chances.
Some of the reasons a person might decide screening is not right for them:
You have made up your mind that you are not going to go through chemotherapy if you are diagnosed. Some people choose not to get treatment for various reasons, such as age. A person in their 60’s might have chemotherapy, whereas the same person in their 80’s may choose not to.
You already have a current disease, such as heart disease which after consideration and counseling with your doctor, you decide that your risk of dying of a heart problem would occur before any risk of cancer.
Many people choose quality of life, over quantity of life. They attempt to do the best they can with exercise, diet, meditation, and seeking the love and support of family and friends. Some people choose to let life and death progress as it may.
Who can say that there is any one right or wrong choice. These choices are very individual in nature. Some people believe a life without constant medical intervention is a higher quality life, than what particular malady may kill them. Everyone has to die, they reason. They decide to live life to its fullest, rather than living in fear of possible disease, and the sometimes even more fearsome remedies.
There are tools to help the average man or woman make these most important decisions. Because of the internet we have knowledge right on the tip of our finger. In the comfort of our own homes we can study the benefit/risk of any and all treatments that are available to us today.
You can counsel with your doctor, your therapist, join support groups, and speak to your pastors or Rabbi’s. You can come to terms with the process of death by taking a very life-changing, unique and individual spiritual journey, which often can change life perspectives.
Another tool available is an aide for decision making, called Patient decision aids, these tools come in the form of brochures, video’s, and web-based interactive programs; some include interviews with cancer survivors and people considering getting screened. Given out by some insurance companies, and some medical clinics, patients are often allowed to take these aids home, to make the decision within the comfort of your own environment to discuss with family members.
Whatever your choices are, don’t let others guilt you into making a choice that they believe would be right for you. This is your choice, and you are the one who will live with the consequence of it. In these situations, either choice has both benefits and risks, and you are the one best equipped to know which path you should take.
*I am not a doctor, this research is for informational purposes only. Please consult your doctor if you have health concerns