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Cancer Screening & Prevention

Regular cancer screening tests are one of the most important things you can do for your health. Take action to reduce your risk of breast, cervical and colon cancer.

Why screen for cancer?

Cancer screening saves lives. Most deaths from breast, cervical and colon cancer are preventable by having a regular screening test for each disease. 

Screening tests help find diseases and health conditions early before you have any symptoms. Finding cancer in its early stages when it is easier to treat leads to better health outcomes.

Screening can prevent:
7 out of 10 cases of cervical cancer
1 death for every 1000 screened women for breast cancer
90 out of 100 deaths from colon cancer


Breast cancer

Things you can do to reduce your risk

Physical activity protects you against developing breast cancer, no matter how old you are. Even if you have never exercised before, it’s never too late to start.

Visit Physical activity for ways to get active. 

‎Research studies show a link between weight and the risk for breast cancer after menopause (end of your period). Maintaining a healthy weight throughout your life will help reduce your risk. Eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise are the best ways to manage your weight.  

Visit Eating well and Physical activity for more info.

Drinking alcohol increases your risk of developing breast cancer. The less you drink, the better, and no alcohol is best.  

Canada’s Low Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines recommend women limit their drinking to no more than 10 drinks a week, and no more than 2 drinks a day most days. Breast cancer experts recommend even less alcohol – less than one drink per day. 
Not every woman has the opportunity to breastfeed. However, if you can, breastfeeding will reduce your risk of developing breast cancer as well as being the best nutrition for your baby’s health.

Menopause (when you stop having your period) comes with hormonal changes in the body that may cause hot flushes, poor sleep and mood swings. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can be useful for relieving these symptoms.

However, research shows long-term use of combined hormone replacement therapy (synthetic estrogen and progesterone) increases the risk of breast cancer.

Learn more about HRT & cancer risks from the Canadian Cancer Society.

Know how your breasts look and feel so that you are more likely to notice when there are changes. Watch for breast lumps or swelling, nipple discharge or any changes in your nipples, breast size, shape or skin.

Talk to your health care provider right away if you notice breast changes. 

Women at average risk for breast cancer should follow BC’s recommendations for screening mammography.

  • Women between the ages 40-49 and 75+ should discuss the benefits and limitations of screening mammography with their health care provider – you are eligible for a mammogram every 2 years.
  • Women between the ages of 50-74 with no family history of breast cancer should have a mammogram every 2 years.
  • Women between the ages of 40-74 with a close relative (mother, sister, daughter who had breast cancer) should have a mammogram every year.

Visit Five Plus Steps to Breast Health for more info on reducing breast cancer risk.

Cervical cancer

Reduce your risk of cervical cancer

A Papanicolaou (Pap) test is the only way to detect abnormal cells in the cervix. By having regular Pap tests you can reduce your risk of cervical cancer by 70%.

BC Cancer recommends women have Pap tests:
  • starting at age 21 or 3 years after first sexual contact
  • then every year for the first 3 years.
  • Get screened every 3 years if you are between the ages of 25 and 69.
You can book a Pap test at your doctor's office or clinic.
The human papillamvirus (HPV) vaccines protect against two high risk HPV types that cause most cases of cervical cancer.

In women who have never been infected with HPV, the vaccines:
  • protect against 7 out of 10 cases of cervical cancer
  • are safe, effective and have few side effects
HPV vaccine is available free for BC girls and young women born in 1991 and later. BC Cancer recommends getting the HPV vaccine if you are between the ages of 9 and 45.

Find out more about HPV vaccine.

Visit Screening BC for info on what you can do to reduce your risk of cervical cancer.
Colon cancer

Reduce your risk of colon cancer

Age is the biggest risk factor for colon cancer; so all adults 50-74 years old need to be screened regularly.

There are 2 different tests available – the fecal immunochemical test (FIT) and colonoscopy. Talk to your doctor about which test is right for you.

1. Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT)
  • every 2 years for people over 50 years of age who are at low risk for colon cancer
2. Colonoscopy
  • every 5 years for people over 50 years of age with at least 1 of the following:
    • first degree relative (mother, father, sister, brother, daughter or son) with colon cancer diagnosed under the age of 60; or
    •  2 or more first degree relatives with colon cancer diagnosed at any age; or
    •  a personal history of adenomas (non-cancerous tumours).
As with other cancers, regular physical activity, eating a balanced diet, maintaining a healthy weight for your body, quitting smoking and limiting alcohol intake all help to reduce your risk for colon cancer.

Visit Screening BC for more info about screening for colon cancer.

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SOURCE: Cancer Screening & Prevention ( )
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