While nobody wants to think about the fact that they may be at high risk for cancer, or hear that they have been diagnosed with cancer, being proactive in the screening process is vital for a healthy you. Diagnosing cancer early gives patients a much better outlook for their treatment and generally better outcomes, which is why routine cancer screenings are so important. Your gynecologist can screen for some types of cancer, and at Maternal Fetal Medicine Associates, patients can also learn more about their genetics and risk for developing cancer. If you have a history of cancer if your family or are interested in learning more about cancer screenings and their importance, read on for more information.
Cancer screening is a normal part of a well-woman’s appointment with your gynecologist. During your visit, your gynecologist can perform a breast exam, a Pap smear, and colorectal cancer screening. These help to test for breast cancer, cervical cancer, and cancer of the colon or rectum.. It is recommended that women receive a well-women’s appointment annually, and girls should begin seeing a gynecologist between the ages of 13 and 15.
During a breast exam, your gynecologist will feel for lumps or enlarged lymph nodes and check for skin changes that can indicate breast cancer. You should perform regular self-breast exams at home, too, but a professional exam is recommended. Feel free to ask your doctor how to properly perform a self-breast exam at home between appointments. If you ever do feel a lump in your breast at home, be sure to speak with your doctor as soon as you can.
Pap smears check for cervical cancer by testing for abnormal cervical cells. Your gynecologist may also test for HPV, a virus that can cause cervical cancer. Most abnormal Pap smear results are benign, so you don’t need to be overly concerned if your gynecologist recommends further testing. Your gynecologist may recommend a colposcopy to further check for cancer. A colposcopy is a procedure performed to help your doctor get a close-up look at your cervix and to check for abnormal cervical cells.
To screen for colorectal cancer, your doctor may perform a stool test or rectal exam. Colorectal cancer is cancer of the colon or rectum, which is located at the end of the digestive tract.
Unfortunately, ovarian cancer can’t be detected through a routine screening at your regular well-woman’s appointment. However, if you have a higher risk for ovarian cancer or symptoms like bloating and abdominal pain, your gynecologist may recommend an ultrasound, bloodwork, or another test.
Regardless of a healthy diet and regular exercise, preventative cancer screenings are vital to a woman’s health. Patients should view health screenings as an investment in their futurebecause catching cancer early on heightens the chances of successful treatment. If you have a history of cancer in your family or have had cancer in the past, be sure to share this information with your doctor during your visit. He or she may recommend cancer genetics counseling, which can detect certain gene mutations that may increase your risk for developing certain cancers during your lifetime. If a gene mutation is detected, you will then be better informed regarding your risks and more proactive yearly screening may be reccomended.
Certain types of cancer run in families through genetic mutations that can be passed down. These include breast cancer, ovarian cancer, colon cancer, melanoma, pancreatic cancer, uterine cancer, and more. Patients can choose to have their DNA tested through a blood or saliva test to see if they are at an increased risk for cancer, but determining whether this is necessary starts with a genetic counseling appointment.
During this appointment, you will review your personal and family medical history with one of our board-certified Obstetrician/Gynecologists. This helps to determine your risk and whether genetic testing is necessary. If you decide to proceed with testing, there are three possible test results:
- A positive result means you do have a pathogenic variant indicating an increased risk for cancer.
- A negative result indicates you have no pathogenic variants and no increased risk of cancer.
- An inconclusive result, meaning that some alterations in your genes were detected, but it is unknown whether this puts you at an increased risk for cancer. In these cases, you should continue to follow your doctor’s recommendations including a healthy lifestyle and sticking to recommended cancer screening guidelines.
All patients, should, however, understand that genetic testing does come with some limitations. These tests cannot test for every single gene or gene variant that might indicate an increased risk for cancer. Your doctor will speak with you regarding these testing limitations, as well as answer any questions you have.
Genetic cancer screening involves taking a sample of your blood or saliva to have your DNA evaluated by a lab. These scientists will screen your DNA for mutations in genes that cause an increased risk for certain types of cancer. Results take about two weeks on average and a professional from our team, either a physician or board–certified genetic counselor will review the results with you. Should patients have specific concerns or risks, a board-certified Medical Geneticist, Dr. Tamar Goldwaser, is also available for in-depth genetic consultations with patients and their families. Dr. Goldwaser specializes in hereditary cancer syndromes and helps guide patients through interpreting their genetic testing results to create an optimal healthcare plan.
If an individual has certain gene mutations, it does not mean they will definitely have cancer in their lifetime. However, it does mean that they have an inherited predisposition. Genetic cancer screening helps patients optimize healthcare planning to detect cancer early should they develop it at some point in their life. Patients who have multiple relatives with the same type of cancer, relatives diagnosed with early-onset cancer, a personal previous cancer diagnosis, or who are Ashkenazi Jewish often benefit from genetic cancer screening.
To schedule an appointment for a well-woman’s visit, genetic counseling, or genetic cancer screening, call Maternal Fetal Medicine Associates at (212) 235-1335 or request your appointment online. Our team specializes in providing outstanding care for women who are at high risk for complications during pregnancy. However, we also offer an array of gynecological services to meet the needs of each of our patients.
Maternal Fetal Medicine blogs are intended for educational purposes only and do not replace certified professional care. Medical conditions vary and change frequently. Please ask your doctor any questions you may have regarding your condition to receive a proper diagnosis or risk analysis. Thank you!