Cancer Screening Guidelines

Screening is looking for cancer before a person has any symptoms so that cancer can be detected at an early stage. When cancer is found early, it may be easier to treat.

Breast Cancer

  • Know your breasts. If you detect any change in your breasts, report them to your doctor.
  • Perform breast self examinations at least once a month to check for any changes in your breasts.
  • Women in their 40s and older should have mammograms every year. Women who are at higher risk of breast cancer may need to have mammograms earlier than age 40 and/or may require more frequent screenings.
  • Women between the ages of 20 and 39 should have a clinical breast exam each year. This is usually performed by the doctor during a woman's annual GYN exam.

Cervical Cancer

  • Women should have a Pap test at least once every 3 years, beginning about 3 years after they begin to have sexual intercourse, but no later than age 21.
  • If a Pap test shows abnormalities, further tests and/or treatment may be required.
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection is the primary risk factor for cervical cancer.
  • Women ages 65 to 70 who have had at least 3 normal Pap tests and no abnormal Pap tests in the last 10 years may decide, after talking with their doctor, to stop having Pap tests. Women who have had a hysterectomy do not need to have a Pap test, unless the surgery was done as a treatment for precancer or cancer.

Colorectal Cancer

  • At age 50, men and women should begin having one or more tests for colorectal cancer screening, including:
    • Fecal occult blood test (FOBT)
    • Sigmoidoscopy
    • Colonoscopy
    • Double contrast barium enema (DCBE)
    • Digital rectal exam (DRE)
  • The doctor will examine the cells in the colon and rectum for abnormalities or precancerous polyps. Polyps are growths that protrude from the inner wall of the colon or rectum. Polyps are common in people 50 and older and are usually benign (non-cancerous).
  • When detected early, colorectal cancer is generally more treatable.

Lung Cancer

  • Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death and the second most common non-skin cancer in the United States.
  • Two tests that are commonly used to screen for lung cancer include chest x-ray and sputum cytology, a procedure that brings up a sample of mucus from the lungs by coughing and is viewed under a microscope to check for cancer cells.

Oral Cancer

  • The use of tobacco products (including smokeless tobacco) and alcohol increases the risk of developing oral cancer.
  • Screening for oral cancer is usually performed by a dentist or a doctor during a physical checkup.
  • The areas of the mouth that are examined for cancer include the floor of the mouth, front, and sides of the tongue, and the soft palate.

Ovarian Cancer

  • Tests used to detect ovarian cancer include annual or semi-annual pelvic exam, transvaginal ultrasound, and CA 125 blood test. The doctor may recommend that women with a heredity of ovarian cancer syndrome receive these tests.

Prostate Cancer

  • Beginning at age 50, men should receive an annual digital rectal exam.
  • Men 50 and older should receive an annual prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test. PSA is a protein produced by the cells of the prostate gland. The PSA test measures the level of PSA in the blood. The higher a man’s PSA level, the more likely it is that cancer is present, but there are many other possible reasons for an elevated PSA level.
  • African-American men with a family history of prostate cancer should start prostate screenings at age 45.

Skin Cancer

  • Sunlamps and tanning booths can cause skin damage and an increased risk of melanoma. To help prevent and reduce your risk of melanoma caused by UV radiation, avoid exposure to the midday sun (from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.) and wear sunscreen with a high sun protection factor (SPF).
  • Routine self examination of the skin can lead to early detection of skin cancer or melanoma.
  • Most melanomas that appear in the skin can be found through examination of the skin. If an area on the skin looks abnormal, a biopsy is usually done.
  • In most cases, there is a length of time that the cancer spreads beneath the top layer of skin (epidermis) but does not invade the deeper layers of skin.