Health awareness

Experts discuss importance of cancer screenings and early detection

In this Teal Talks episode, TV host and cancer survivor Samantha Harris leads the conversation about the advances in cancer screenings and early prevention with three renowned cancer specialists

July 28, 2022

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You may know Samantha Harris from hosting eight seasons of Dancing with the Stars and her many years on Entertainment Tonight, but she’s also a cancer survivor — or “cancer thriver,” as she prefers to be called.

At age 40, Harris was diagnosed with stage II invasive breast cancer and underwent a double mastectomy. Since her diagnosis, the Emmy-winning TV personality has become a fierce advocate for living a healthier life to help prevent chronic diseases like cancer.

“We need to be our own best health advocates by knowing our body so we can recognize any changes and then find the right expert in the medical field to assess if there is or isn’t something to worry about,” said Harris, who’s been in remission since October 2014.

Samantha Harris
Harris underwent a double mastectomy

In episode 5 of Teal Talks, Harris sits down with Dr. Laura Makaroff, SVP, prevention and early detection, American Cancer Society, and Merck’s Dr. Scot Ebbinghaus, VP, late-stage oncology, and Steve Keefe, AVP, global clinical development, oncology, to discuss cancer prevention and advances in screening.

WATCH: Teal Talks Episode 5, The importance of cancer screenings and early detection

four people talking via online meeting

Cancer risk factors

According to the American Cancer Society, about 18% of cancers in the U.S. are related to modifiable risk factors, and thus could be preventable.

“If we all follow a healthy lifestyle — by making good choices in the foods that we take in, maintaining a healthy body weight, staying physically active, using alcohol in moderation, and not smoking — we can really do a lot to reduce our risk of cancer and help prevent it.”

  • Dr. Laura Makaroff

Screening tests

Screening tests are another component of cancer prevention. Certain screenings aim to find cancer before it causes symptoms and when it may be easier to treat. There aren’t currently screening tests for every type of cancer, but there are several tests that health agencies recommend for breast, cervical, colorectal and lung cancers.

Cancer screening recommendations vary from country to country, so it’s important to talk to your doctor about which tests are right for you.

“There are some people who fit a high-risk category because they have a family history of cancer or some other inherited condition and might need to start screening earlier or do a different kind of screening test than the average-risk population,” said Makaroff. “It’s an important topic to bring up with your doctor and make sure that you, as a patient, know to ask the right questions.”

doctor with patient illustration

Some questions to ask your doctor

  • What cancer screening tests are recommended for someone my age?
  • How often should I get the screening test?
  • Where can I go to get screened?

[Source: American Cancer Society]

Lessons from the pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic caused a significant interruption to cancer screening services. In the U.S., it is estimated that 9.4 million cancer screenings were missed from January through July 2020 vs the same period in 2019.

“There’s no one-size-fits-all type solution to get things back on track,” said Keefe. “But community outreach can help get people’s awareness about the importance of screenings back on track and help reassure people that when they return to the doctor’s office or clinic, precautions will be in place to help keep them safe from COVID-19.”

Despite some of the dire statistics around cancer care disruptions, the health care industry gained some valuable lessons from the pandemic.

“One of the things that the pandemic has taught us is that we can reach our patients even if they can’t come into the doctor’s office,” Ebbinghaus said. “Being able to leverage telemedicine to counsel patients and arrange for testing could really help improve cancer preventative care.”