Zocdoc Answers

Medical questions & health advice by board certified doctors

"How can one spot a cancerous growth?"


I am a 24 year old woman and I check my skin for moles and my breasts for lumps weekly. Is there anything else I can do?


Cancer screening -- or the process of investigating for cancer in an otherwise healthy person -- is a very important process. Many years and millions of dollars have been spent studying what are the best ways to look for cancers. I would recommend that you discuss this your primary care doctor.

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Firstly, keep in mind this is for screening -- which means the patient has no complaints. If you are having any complaints that worry you -- this might require more testing than the standard screening. In terms of cancer screening, for a women your age there is really only one very well proven technique to determine cancer. This is a pap smear -- or a test done to detect cervical cancer early. We know that by yearly exams we can prevent and reduce the severity of cervical cancer. A skin exam is probably helpful, but this has never been proven. In actuality, a breast exam is not necessary. While it is something you certainly could continue, we have know data that this allows us to catch cancer earlier. In fact, some studies have shown that women doing there own breast exam actually leads to more unnecessary biopsies than cancers found. Talk to your doctor about this. Talk to your doctor. A pap smear is the one cancer screening that is very important for a women your age. Other studies -- like mammograms and colonoscopies -- are also needed for older patients.

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