Prevention and Screening
While we can't prevent all cancers, you can take steps to reduce your risk of developing certain types of cancer. Our specialists offer prevention strategies and cancer screening recommendations to find cancer when it is most treatable. Our cancer board-certified and fellowship-trained specialists strive to exceed national benchmarks, the standards set for care excellence. We work relentlessly, communicating and coordinating with you, so that you have the best possible outcome.
You can help prevent cancer by reducing some behaviors and starting others. To reduce cancer risk, experts recommend that you:
- Eat a healthy diet, including fruits and vegetables
- Get regular exercise (at least 150 minutes per week) and stay at a healthy weight
- Practice safe sex
- Receive vaccinations for hepatitis B and HPV, if recommended by your doctor
- See your doctor for regular checkups
- Wear sunscreen when you’re going out in the sun
Some behaviors put you at higher risk for developing certain cancers. Our specialists recommend that you:
- Avoid chewing tobacco
- Limit the amount of alcohol you drink to no more than one drink per day (women) or two drinks per day (men)
- Reduce your exposure to radiation, second-hand smoke and harmful chemicals
- Stop smoking
Our cancer team recommends regular screenings for certain cancers. We have training and experience in screening techniques that help find cancer early-even if you're not having symptoms. We recommend:
Breast cancer screening
A mammogram is a breast X-ray that looks for tissue changes. Screening mammograms for breast cancer typically begin at age 40 for individuals assigned female at birth. If you notice any changes in your breasts, talk with your doctor right away.
Cervical cancer screening
During a Pap test (Pap smear), the doctor scrapes a small sample of tissue from your cervix. Specialists look at the tissue under a microscope to check for changes that might show cervical cancer.
Screening recommendations are based on your age and health history, so it's important to talk to your primary care provider or OB/Gyn about the best cervical cancer screening option for you.
Generally, we recommend the following cervical screening schedule:
- Under age 21: Screening not recommended
- Ages 21-19: Pap test alone every 3 years; HPV testing can be considered from ages 25-29, but Pap is still preferred.
- Ages 30-65: Either (1) Pap alone every 3 years or (2) HPV test alone every 5 years or (3) Pap and HPV test (co-testing) every 5 years.
- Ages 65 and above: Screening is not necessary if there is no history of cervical changes and there have been either (1) three negative Pap test results in a row or (2) two negative HPV tests in a row or (3) two negative co-test results in a row in the past 10 years. The most recent test should have been performed within the past 3 or 5 years, depending on the type of test.
Colon cancer screening
Our experts recommend colon cancer screening beginning at age 45. If you have a family history of colon cancer or have certain risk factors, we may recommend that you begin screening earlier.
We may screen for colon cancer with:
- Colonoscopy: We place a tube with a light and video camera (colonoscope) into your rectum to inspect the colon and rectum for abnormal tissue and polyps. Colonoscopies are recommended every 10 years.
- Stool tests: We examine a sample of your stool (feces) to look for signs of cancer. Stool tests are recommended annually.
We offer different types of tests to screen for colon cancer. Talk with your doctor about which screening is right for you.
A genetic counselor can perform personalized cancer risk assessments for you. Our experts at Sentara perform genetic testing, sometimes called germline genetic testing, on a blood or salvia sample and look for rare, inherited mutations. After interpreting the results, we work with you and our physicians to advise you on managing your, and possibly your family's, hereditary risk of breast, ovarian, colon cancers and others. Genetic testing results can also help your cancer team make treatment decisions if you're undergoing cancer care.
Liver Cancer Screening
Talk with your doctor if you have cirrhosis, diabetes or hepatitis to determine if you should be regularly screened for liver cancer. You might benefit from a blood test looks for alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) or ultrasound, CT or MRI imaging scans.
Lung cancer screening
Our experts recommend screening for lung cancer for adults ages 50 to 80 years who have a 20 pack/year history of smoking and currently smoke or quit within the last 15 years. We do this screening with a non-invasive imaging test called a low-dose CT scan. Talk with your doctor about whether you qualify for this screening.
Pancreatic Cancer Screening
Your doctor might recommend genetic testing if you have a family history of pancreatic cancer. The results could show a gene mutation. You and your genetic counselor might decide on further testing as well.
Prostate cancer screening
We recommend prostate cancer screenings for the following people with prostates:
- Those 40 and older with more than one first-degree relative who had prostate cancer at an early age
- African-Americans age 45 and older
- Those age 50 and older of average risk
Skin Cancer Screening
If you have light skin or a history of skin cancer in your family, you might have regular skin cancer screenings. A physician performs a visual exam of your skin, checking for marks that are unusual in size, shape or texture.