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Surviving Cancer Starts With Early ScreeningPublished: July 29, 2021
The American Cancer Society estimates that 1.9 million cases of cancer will be diagnosed in the U.S. this year – and more than 600,000 people will die from cancer.
But cancer doesn’t need to be so far-reaching and deadly. In fact, many cancer cases can be prevented. One of the most important steps you can take is to follow recommended guidelines for cancer screenings.
Screening Begins With You
Screening gives you the best chance of finding cancer as early as possible – while it’s small and before it has spread. The earlier you find it, the easier it is to treat, and your chances of survival increase. While hereditary factors can play a role, there are many other individual factors that put you at risk for developing cancer: Diet, activity level and tobacco use are just a few.
Discussing your risk factors with your health care provider can help determine when and what screening is right for you. The American Cancer Society also has recommendations on screenings for common cancers based on age and gender.
Breast Cancer Testing
- Know how your breasts look and feel and report any changes to your health care provider right away.
- Women ages 40-44 have the choice to start annual breast cancer screening with mammograms.
- Starting at age 45, women should get mammograms every year.
- At age 55, woman can switch to mammograms every other year or continue annual screenings.
- It’s important to know if you are at higher than average risk for breast cancer. If you are, talk to a health care provider about when you need to start getting mammograms and whether you need to get other tests along with your mammograms.
Learn more about early detection of breast cancer.
CERVICAL CANCER TESTING
- Women between the ages of 25 and 65 should have an HPV (human papillomavirus) test every five years, an HPV/Pap co-test every five years or a Pap test every three years.
- Women over the age of 65 who’ve had regular screenings with normal results should not be screened for cervical cancer. If you have been diagnosed with cervical pre-cancer, you should continue to be screened.
- You don't need testing if you’ve had a hysterectomy, which removed the uterus and cervix, as long as it was done for reasons not related to cervical cancer.
- Women at high risk for cervical cancer may need to be screened more often and should consult their health care provider. Women at high risk might include those with HIV infection, organ transplant or exposure to the drug DES.
ENDOMETRIAL (UTERINE) CANCER
- At the time of menopause, your primary care provider should tell you about the risks and symptoms of endometrial cancer. Be sure to report any unexpected vaginal bleeding or spotting to your health care provider.
Learn more about early detection of endometrial cancer.
PROSTATE CANCER TESTING
- A discussion about screening should begin at age 40 for men at the highest risk, which means they have more than one first-degree relative (father or brother) who was diagnosed with prostate cancer at an early age (before 65). This discussion with a primary care provider should cover the uncertainties, risks and potential benefits of testing.
- Starting at age 45, men at a high risk for prostate cancer should discuss screenings. These are African American men or men who have a father or brother who had prostate cancer before age 65.
- Starting at age 50, every man at average risk should talk with a health care provider about screening.
- If you decide to be tested, you should get a PSA blood test with or without a rectal exam. How often you’re tested will depend on your PSA level.
Learn more about early detection of prostate cancer.
Men and Women
COLON CANCER TESTING
- Everyone at average risk should start regular testing at age 45. There are several testing options. Talk with a health care provider about which tests are best for you and how often testing should be done.
- From ages 76-85, the recommendation for screening is based on a person’s preference, life expectancy, overall health and prior screening history.
- Screenings are not recommended after age 85.
LUNG CANCER TESTING
- If you are age 50 or older, talk to a health care provider about your smoking history and whether you should get yearly low-dose CT scans to screen for early lung cancer.
- You may benefit from screening if you’re an active or former smoker (quit within the past 15 years), have no signs of lung cancer and have a 20 pack-year smoking history. (A pack-year is one pack of cigarettes per day per year. One pack per day for 20 years or two packs per day for 10 years would both be 20 pack-years.) You should discuss the benefits, limitations, risks and potential costs of screening with a health care provider before testing is done. Many health insurances cover the cost of this screening.
Other Cancer Screenings
Anyone over the age of 20 should have periodic health exams. A cancer-related checkup should include health counseling and, depending on your age and gender, exams for cancers of the thyroid, oral cavity, skin, lymph nodes, testes and ovaries, as well as some other diseases besides cancer.
And, of course, listen to your body. Regardless of cancer screening recommendations, talk with your health team if you notice anything unusual or have questions about your health. Early detection is crucial in treating cancer and a number of other health issues. And don’t hesitate to reach out to your primary care provider if you have any questions or to learn more about your screening options.