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Do you need a cancer screening?

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ATLANTA -

Catching cancer early, while it's still treatable, can make a critical difference. But, how do you know which cancer screenings you need, and which to skip, when the recommendations are changing all the time?

It would be great if we had a blood test that could tell us "yes" or "no." But, we don't. There are a handful of tests, and some of them are not that precise. So, it's important to know which test is right for you and when you should be getting screened.

John Cutter is one of those rare guys who actually goes to the doctor. Two years ago it paid off when a routine blood test, called a PSA, spotted a problem with Cutter's prostate gland.
    
"I had a very aggressive form of cancer.  Another six months could have made a lot of difference in what the ultimate results were," said Cutter.

At Clark Atlanta University, Dr. Shafiq Khan says doctors have two ways to spot prostate cancer:  a physical exam, such as a PSA.
 
"But you need further tests to find out if you have cancer or not, and even if you have cancer, you don't if it is slow growing or if it's a fast-growing cancer," said Khan.

Critics say men with high PSAs are being given treatments they don't need, leading to incontinence and erectile dysfunction.

But at Radiotherapy Clinics of Georgia, medical director Dr. Frank Critz, says telling men not to get tested isn't the answer.

"I get a PSA test every year, on my annual physical exam, and I don't care what anybody says, I'm going to continue to do that because not all prostate cancer is the slow growing kind.  Matter of fact, most prostate cancer is not the slow growing kind," said Critz.

So do you need a PSA?  You need to talk to your doctor.

Mammograms aren't foolproof either. They have a high rate of false-positives, which can lead to more follow-ups, biopsies and anxiety. But, they're still the gold-standard. Mammograms are recommended for women 40 and over every year.

Colonoscopy, the screening tool for colon cancer, has few critics. Men and women 50 and up should get one every ten years.

For cervical cancer, women from 21 to 29 should get a pap smear every three years, and for women 30 to 65, every five years.

Cutter had radioactive seeds implanted into his prostate to kill his cancer, and now he's a volunteer,   spreading the "get-tested" message.

"So we, absolutely, positively advocate for people to get PSA tests, and to get them on a regular basis," said Cutter.

If you're a current or former heavy smoker over 50, you may want to talk to your doctor about getting a low-dose CT scan to look for lung cancer. The scans are not recommended for healthy people, who are not considered high-risk.

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