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Three myths about three health screenings

GEHA | January 16, 2020

Men's health Women's health
As a GEHA medical plan member, you are covered 100% for these routine adult screenings. Yet, some common misconceptions persist.

The ways cancer is detected are improving every day, with tests and screenings becoming more focused, precise and accessible.

Whatever the type of cancer, early detection is key to treatment and survival. Screenings for three types of cancer – breast, colon and cervical – are especially key to successful early detection. As a GEHA medical plan member, you are covered 100% for these routine adult screenings.

Yet, some common misconceptions about mammograms, colonoscopies and Pap smears persist.

Three myths about breast cancer

  • Myth No. 1: Only women get breast cancer.
    While rare, men can be diagnosed with breast cancer as well. It is usually detected as a hard lump underneath the nipple and areola. Mortality is higher in men than women because awareness is low, which can delay seeking treatment.

  • Myth No. 2: Finding a lump in your breast means you have cancer.
    Only a small percentage of breast lumps turn out to be cancer. But never ignore a persistent lump in your breast or any other changes in breast tissue.

  • Myth No. 3: If you have a family history of breast cancer, you will likely develop it, too.

It’s true women with a family history are in a higher risk group. But statistically, only about 10% of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer have a family history of the disease.

Physicians recommend women begin having mammograms at age 50 and continue at least every two years. Depending on family history or other risk factors, it may be recommended that some women start with a screening mammogram at age 40.

All women should begin monthly breast self-exams at age 20. This helps a woman become familiar with how her breasts look and feel so she can notice any changes and alert her physician accordingly.

Three myths about colorectal cancer

  • Myth No. 1: Colonoscopies are painful.
    Patients are sedated during the procedure and feel no pain.
  • Myth No. 2: Screenings are unnecessary if you don’t have symptoms.
    In general, colon cancer is a silent disease. By the time symptoms are experienced, the disease may be more advanced and difficult to treat. A recent study estimated that 50% fewer people have died of colorectal cancer in recent years thanks to screenings.
  • Myth No. 3: Colorectal cancer is a “man’s disease.”
    While cancers of this type are more common in men, it’s not by much – data show that about 57%, or just more than half, of new diagnoses are in men.
While colorectal cancer can occur at any age, people at average risk for the disease should be screened regularly beginning at age 50. Experts recommend screening for colorectal cancer using fecal occult blood testing, sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy beginning at age 50 and continuing until age 75. Speak to your doctor regarding a screening method and timeline that’s appropriate for you.


Three myths about Pap smears

  • Myth No. 1: Getting a Pap smear is painful.
    While a bit uncomfortable, the exam is not as painful as women may think. And because the test is quite quick, any discomfort is temporary.

  • Myth No. 2: If your results come back positive, you have cervical cancer.
    This isn’t true. You could have slight inflammation or there could be very minor cell changes that may clear up on their own. Your physician will advise you.

  • Myth No. 3: Pap smears aren’t reliable.
    The test is one of the most dependable ways of early cancer detection.
Women between 21 and 65 should have a Pap test every three years, while women over age 30 might consider HPV co-testing every five years.


“Cancer Statistics.”, National Cancer Institute, 14 January 2020.
"Cervical Cancer Screening." National Cancer Institute, 14 January, 2020.
"Tests to Detect Colorectal Cancer and Polyps." National Cancer Institute, 14 January 2020
"Mammogram Guidelines: What are they.", Mayo Clinic, 14 January 2020
"Myths" National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc., 14 January 2020
United States Preventive Services Task Force,