Screening Tests for Women Archive


Ask the doctor: Should I worry about x-rays?







Anthony L. Komaroff, M.D.

Q. I always worry about cancer risks when I have -x-rays or airport screenings. Am I overreacting?

A. We use a lot of x-rays in medicine and in other places (like airports). Too much radiation exposure over time definitely can have adverse effects on health. So you're right to be careful, and to ask if you really need a test that involves radiation when your doctor orders one. How can you assess how much radiation you're getting, and how much is too much?

Best way to prevent advanced colon cancer

A colonoscopy can help prevent the diagnosis of late-stage colon cancer. Research suggests that the test can reduce the likelihood of advanced colorectal cancer diagnosis by 70% in adults with average risk.

Research We're Watching: Older women can wait two years for next mammogram

How often should you have a mammogram? That depends on which medical group's recommendations you follow. The American Cancer Society says all women over 40 should have this breast cancer screening test once a year, but the CDC and USPSTF say once every two years is fine for women ages 50 to 74. A study published online in February in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute adds credibility to the biennial recommendation for women older than 65. The study looked at breast cancer outcomes in 140,000 women (ages 66 to 89). Women who had a mammogram each year had a 48% risk for false-positive results (finding cancer where there is none), compared with a 29% risk in women who had the test every two years. Plus, the chance of the test finding a late-stage breast cancer was similar in both groups. This study suggests that older women can have similar outcomes—and a lower chance of a false-positive result—if they wait an extra year to have a mammogram. But ultimately, the decision on how often to screen should be individualized. Based on your breast cancer risks, ask your doctor how often you should have a mammogram.


Brain scan shows best time to treat plaque

The best time to treat brain plaques may be the 15-year period when they are first developing. These plaques are found in Alzheimer's disease and are linked to a decline in memory and thinking abilities.

Why breast density matters

What it means to have dense breasts—and how they can affect your breast cancer risk.

After a routine mammogram, your radiologist or doctor might have told you that you have dense breasts. But what exactly are dense breasts, and how can they affect your breast cancer risk?

Test for ovarian, endometrial cancers

Could cells taken from a Pap test offer the first-ever early screening method?

Every year, nearly 70,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with ovarian and endometrial cancers, and about one-third of them die. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University have developed a test they say can detect ovarian and endometrial cancers from fluid taken during a routine Pap test. The new test—called PapGene—analyzes DNA from ovarian and endometrial cancer cells that have been shed into the cervical fluid.

Brain plaque vs. Alzheimer's gene

Which is a better predictor of memory loss?

Two tests are available to determine if you are at increased risk for getting Alzheimer's disease: a test for a gene known as APOE4 and a brain imaging test called a PET scan. A recent study in the journal Neurology finds the brain scan is a better predictor.

The PET scan can detect a protein called beta-amyloid that is found in the plaques observed in the brains of people who are later diagnosed to have Alzheimer's disease. The recent study performed both tests in 141 older people who had no cognitive impairment and then followed them for 18 months. Those with high levels of beta-amyloid in the brain were more likely to have a deterioration in mental function than those with the APOE4 gene.

Do CT scans cause cancer?

For older men the risk from diagnostic CT scans is relatively small.

By one estimate, Americans have more than 70 million CT scans every year. This raises a concern: The scans expose people to x-rays, and this so-called ionizing radiation can damage cells and lead to cancer down the road. But for older men, CT scanning does not present a great risk compared with the benefits of diagnostic scans.

Can we detect cancer earlier?

A Harvard team's breakthrough may make it possible.

A fundamental strategy in the war against cancer is to catch it early—before it has spread, when it's easiest to remove. Unfortunately, some cancers, such as brain cancer and ovarian cancer, remain difficult to detect until the end stages. But that's changing. A Harvard team has discovered a simple, noninvasive way of catching cancer early—by looking at a blood component that's been ignored by the medical community for decades.

Do you need to see your gynecologist every year?

Recommendations no longer support annual visits—but every woman is different.

It feels good to know that we're staying on top of our health, whether we're having our teeth cleaned every six months, getting regular eye exams, or seeing our doctor for a check-up. Many of us have come to rely on our annual gynecological visit as a time to check on our health, to make sure our female organs are in good working order.

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