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Screening Guidelines for 5 Common Cancers

Updated: 01/02/19

It goes without saying that cancer is not a topic that we want at the top of our mind. But the reality is, knowing your risk factors and getting screened may help catch cancer early.

Talking to your physician at your annual check-up about risk factors and whether screening is appropriate for you is one way to stay on top of cancer. Don’t feel uncomfortable about bringing up concerns that you may have or questions about which screenings you should get. While an appointment for a cancer screening might seem daunting, screenings are usually quick and pain-free and can be life-saving.

Below we discuss a few cancer types for which screening may be a consideration.

If you’d like to make an appointment at Fox Chase Cancer Center for a screening, you can request one online or call 888-369-2427.

Breast cancer

Research has shown that women who get routine screening mammograms are more likely to have their breast cancer found early and to be cured.

If you’re at average risk for breast cancer, how often you should be screened depends on your age. The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends:

  • Women 40 to 44 – Talk with your physician about beginning screening. Women have the option of getting a mammogram every year if they choose.
  • Women 45 to 54 - A mammogram once a year is recommended.
  • Women 55 and older- An annual mammogram—or every two years if they prefer—is recommended for as long as they’re in good health and are expected to live at least 10 or more years.

If you’re at high risk for breast cancer the ACS recommends getting a mammogram and an MRI every year beginning at age 30. Factors that would put a woman at high risk include a family history of breast cancer, a genetic mutation associated with breast cancer, or a history of radiation to the chest.

To learn more, read: Don’t Put it Off: Get Screened for Breast Cancer.

Cervical cancer

Regular screenings with a Pap test—done at a woman’s annual visit with her gynecologist —can detect cervical cancer in its earliest stages. A Pap test can even find precancers that can be treated before they become cancer. Almost all cervical cancers are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), and most are asymptomatic in their early stages. Screening for HPV can find an infection that could ultimately lead to cervical cancer.

Current ACS guidelines recommend that:

  • Women 21 to 29 have a Pap test (also called a Pap smear) every three years.
  • Women 30 to 65 get both a Pap test and an HPV test every five years or a Pap test alone every three years.

Some women may need more frequent screenings, specifically those with weakened immune systems—for example, as a result of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), an organ transplant, or long-term steroid use.

To learn more: Read The Truth About Cervical Cancer Screening: How Often Should You Get Tested?.

Colorectal cancer

There are several types of tests to screen for colorectal cancer. Some, like stool tests, mainly find cancer after it has developed. Others, such as a colonoscopy, can find both polyps (abnormal growths) and cancer. If polyps are found during screening they can be removed, reducing the risk of developing cancer in the future.

The ACS recommends screenings that look for both polyps and cancer, but the most important thing is to get tested.

If you’re a man or woman at average risk for colorectal cancer, you should begin screening at age 50. Your doctor can help you decide which screening test is best for you and how often you need it.

If you’re at high risk—for instance, if you have a family history of colorectal cancer or a personal history of inflammatory bowel disease—you may need to start screening before age 50 or be screened more often. Talk to your doctor about your risks.

If you have a family history of colorectal cancer, genetic testing can determine your cancer risk, such as the testing done in The Risk Assessment Program at Fox Chase.

To learn more: Read about risk factors for colorectal cancer and find out if it is time for you to get a colonoscopy

Lung cancer

Many people don’t know they have lung cancer until symptoms appear, and at that point the disease may be advanced. In recent years, screening tools such as a low-dose CT scan have been developed that can help catch lung cancer in its early stages when treatment can provide the best outcome.

To see if you meet the following criteria for a low-dose CT scan, talk to your doctor:

  • You’re between the ages of 55 and 77.
  • You have a history of smoking one pack of cigarettes a day for 30 years, or two packs a day for 15 years.
  • You still smoke, or you quit smoking less than 15 years ago.

To learn more: Read “Lung Cancer Screening: Early Detection for Those With the Highest Risk

If you meet the criteria, you can also schedule an appointment for a low dose CT scan online or call 888-369-2427.

Skin cancer

Our skin is the largest organ in our body and also one of the most important defenses we have. Taking care of it and knowing our own skin is important. Checking your skin for changes in moles or other marks can help find a skin cancer early, particularly for people at high risk of the disease. The ACS recommends:

  • Getting a skin exam from your doctor during a check-up.
  • Examining your skin on your own once a month. Check your entire body, using a hand mirror for hard-to-see areas like your back and behind your ears. Do not hesitate for even a moment to call your doctor if you notice anything different about your moles and blemishes.

To learn more: Read about the risks for skin cancer.

At Fox Chase, we have a long history of screening people for cancer—and for successfully treating the disease when it’s found. Both are part of our ongoing commitment to conquering cancer.