When it comes to your health, knowledge is truly power. Too often we hear stories from family members, friends, or colleagues who wish they had been more active about their health screenings before receiving a life-changing cancer diagnosis. But now is the time to get ahead of your wellness and achieve the peace of mind that preventative cancer screening may bring.

If you’re wondering where to start, don’t worry. In collaboration with Novartis, we’ve reached out to the American Cancer Society to provide you with information and suggestions for screening. In addition to being one of the financial supporters of the American Cancer Society’s Get Screened campaign, Novartis is taking an active role in raising awareness about the importance of regular cancer screening in the Black community. 

Black people have some of the highest rates of death for most cancers, and in 2022 alone, there were an estimated 224,000 new cancer cases and 73,000 cancer deaths. It is especially important to make sure we have the resources and knowledge to know when to start getting screened for certain cancers.

Here are 7 things you should know about cancer screening and prevention, complete with some suggestions from Dr. Arif Kamal, MD, MBA, MHS, Chief Patient Officer for the American Cancer Society.

Advocate for Yourself

Walk into your appointment as a partner in your health. Dr. Kamal suggests bringing any questions, listening actively (and asking for clarification), as well as asking for additional resources. Actively advocating for yourself in your care will not only make you feel empowered, but also invite your doctor to understand your perspective. 

Understand Your Family Health History

Bring your family health history to help your doctor understand your experience with cancer. Dr. Kamal suggests that if you can’t get information about your family health history, let your doctor know and share as much information as you can. Details are key. For example, if there’s a strong history of cancer in the family, share the type of cancer your family member was diagnosed with and at what age they were diagnosed. 

Don’t Wait for Symptoms—Screening Is Part of Self-Care

Cancer can develop without any signs or symptoms. Be sure to include regular screening as a routine part of self-care. There are some screening tests you can do at home, and some that you need a doctor to do. These tests can detect cancer before a person has any symptoms — when it could be easier to treat. Screening tests are recommended for the early detection of breast, colon, cervical, lung, and prostate cancers. But, decisions about what screening tests and schedule are right for you should happen after talking to your health care team about the benefits and any possible risks. Listen to your body: if you notice any major changes in the way your body works or the way you feel but you’re in between screenings—especially if it lasts for a long time or gets worse—let a health care provider know. 

Learn About Screening

It’s normal to be concerned about medical procedures, possible results, affording tests, or even seeing a doctor. Start with a conversation with your doctor to determine the type of test needed. Once your doctor provides a recommendation, ask how to schedule the test, what you need to do to prepare for test day, and how and when you will be notified of test results. Knowing what to expect may help you worry less about your screening. Ultimately, knowing the state of your health can make it easier to take care of yourself, and can potentially lengthen—or even save—your life.

Know That You Can Seek a Second Opinion

We’ve all heard the stories from friends and family—or been there ourselves—where we meet with a doctor and don’t feel comfortable with their approach or attitude. If this happens, Dr. Kamal suggests either directing the conversation with follow-up questions or seeking out a second opinion. Trust is an important element of the doctor/patient relationship, so give yourself the time to make sure you feel comfortable with your doctor. 

Ask Questions

To make sure you get the most out of your appointment, offer feedback and make sure your concerns are addressed. Though doctors can seem rushed, you are entitled to high-quality care as a patient. Your questions and concerns are valid. Feel free to ask for more time and clear information with questions like, “I’m hearing you say this…is that correct?” or “Can you explain what I should expect between now and my next visit?”

Create Your Plan—and Share it With Loved Ones

Create a plan for staying on top of your health with daily habits and regular screening. Even if you do not have a doctor or health insurance, the American Cancer Society can help you learn more about potential costs and find affordable options for cancer screening. Share your experience with family and friends in your community to encourage them to get screened for cancer too—ACS even has ideas on how to start this important conversation

For help with finding a local health center to schedule your cancer screening, visit the Get Screened page on the American Cancer Society’s website. 

This article is brought to you by Blavity in collaboration with Novartis.

About Novartis

Novartis is reimagining medicine to improve and extend people’s lives. We deliver high-value medicines that alleviate society’s greatest disease burdens, including many types of cancer, through research, development, and novel access approaches. In 2021, the company established the Beacon of Hope initiative, a 10-year collaboration with 26 Historically Black Colleges, Universities and Medical Schools, the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, Coursera, and the National Medical Association, to co-create programs that address the root causes of disparities in health and education, and create greater diversity, equity, inclusion, and trust across the research and development ecosystem. Find out more at https://www.novartis.com/us-en/esg/beacon-hope.