Your Health: Getting the Big Picture Right

Author: McLaren Flint

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. This is especially true when it comes to the literal image of your health. Medical imaging and screenings allow physicians to assess certain illnesses, how far they have progressed, and the severity of an injury. 

“Most patients get imaging done because they are having symptoms,” said Dr. Tomy Kalapparambath, a radiologist at McLaren Flint. “Many cancers we find this way are in an advanced stage. Screenings detect cancers before the symptoms start and are usually in the early and more curable stage.”

Routine imaging is very important as these screenings can detect illnesses in the early stages, when they are most treatable. The USPSTF (US Preventative Services Task Force) recommends screenings for certain people according to age and gender.

The American Cancer Society (ACS) also recommends routine screenings. For breast cancer, the ACS recommends women 40 to 44 should have the choice to start annual mammograms. A mammogram is a noninvasive X-ray used to check breasts for cancer and other abnormalities. Women should start having the screenings every year by 45. Women 55 and older may have screenings every two years or continue every year if they choose. If you have a family history of breast cancer or are at a higher risk, you may start screenings before age 40. 

“If they have a strong family history such as a first-degree relative diagnosed young, we say women should start screening when they are 10 years younger than their relative was when diagnosed,” said McLaren Flint radiologist Dr. Linda Lawrence. “This can be a very individualized process.  We sometimes alternate screening mammograms with screening MRIs at six-month intervals for patients at high risk.”

If women of any age notice changes in their breasts or find a lump, they should see their doctor right away. 

“With imaging, we find cancers in women who have no symptoms, but we equally detect them in women who are symptomatic,” Dr. Lawrence said. “Most symptoms turn out to be something benign, but patients should not put off getting testing when having symptoms.  It is important to catch cancer at its earliest stage.”

Women 25 to 65 should also have cervical cancer screenings every five years. Those going through menopause should also consider endometrial cancer screening. 

Men should also see a doctor if they notice lumps or changes in their breasts, as a small percentage of men do get breast cancer. Prostate cancer is far more prevalent in men than breast cancer. Annual screening should start at 50, depending on risk factors. 

Both men and women are at risk for colorectal cancer. Those at average risk should start screening when they turn 45, which could either be a fecal exam every three years or a colonoscopy every ten. People at high risk should have a colonoscopy, possibly more often than every ten years, based on their doctor's recommendation. 

Anyone between 50 and 80 who smokes or has quit within the last 15 years should be screened for lung cancer every year if they smoked the equivalent of a pack a day for 20 years or longer. 

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in men and women. Lung cancer screenings are done with a low-dose CT scan. The screening is very quick, and the radiation exposure is much less than a typical CT scan. Over 90% of lung cancer screenings are negative for cancer. 

“The reason for screening is to be proactive,” said Dr. Kalapparambath. “If a patient is asymptomatic, a screening study can be done proactively to detect the condition before it becomes symptomatic and in a more advanced stage. We see screening cases every day where cancer can be detected early enough even before the patient has symptoms and is usually able to be cured completely.”

According to the American College of Radiology, lung and breast cancer screenings are among the most common. Mammography has helped reduce breast cancer mortality in the United States by nearly 40 percent since 1990. It is the only screening shown to reduce breast cancer deaths. Mammography can detect cancer early when it is most treatable. 

McLaren Flint and McLaren Fenton offer many different types of imaging, including CT, 3D mammography, MRI, X-ray, ultrasound, and bone density scanning. Schedule an appointment online by visiting this link.