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Cancer screening 101

February 26, 2020

This post was updated in March 2021 to reflect new lung cancer screening guidelines from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. 

Women

In your 50s

If you were born between 1945-1965, you may be at increased risk for hepatitis C, a leading cause of liver cancer. Talk to your doctor about getting tested for this virus. If you test positive for hepatitis C, there are treatment options available that can cure the virus and prevent liver cancer.

If you’re a heavy smoker or former smoker, ask your doctor about the pros and cons of screening for lung cancer. It’s recommended that current or former smokers ages 50-80 with a 20 pack-year histories be screened.

  • Screening for lung cancer with low-dose spiral CT significantly reduces lung cancer deaths by catching lung cancers in earlier, more treatable stages.

In your 40s

Beginning at age 40, get screened annually for breast cancer if you are at average risk. Discuss the benefits and risks of screening tests with your health care professional.

If you’re at average risk for colorectal cancer, start getting screened at age 45. 

  • If you can’t or won’t have a colonoscopy, talk with your doctor about other screening options, such as an at-home stool-based test.

In your 30s

From ages 30-65, the preferred way to screen for cervical cancer is with a Pap test combined with an HPV test every 5 years (known as co-testing) or a Pap test every 3 years.

The best way to prevent cervical cancer is by getting vaccinated for the human papillomavirus. This prevents most cases of cervical cancer and at least five other types of cancer. The recommended age for the HPV vaccine is 11 or 12 years old, but the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently approved the vaccine for adults up to age 45—talk to your health care professional to see if this is an option for you, and if you have kids, make sure to get them vaccinated, too!

In your 20s

Begin regular cervical cancer screening at age 21. Women in their twenties should have a Pap test every three years.

From ages 25 to 39, have a check-up with your health care professional at least once every three years for risk assessment, risk reduction counseling and a clinical breast exam. If you are found to be at increased risk, you can talk with your doctor about the frequency of your visits.

If you haven’t been vaccinated against the human papillomavirus (HPV), talk to your doctor about getting vaccinated now. HPV can cause at least six types of cancer, including cervical cancer.

Ask your family about any history of cancer or other chronic diseases, age of diagnosis, any surgeries related to cancer, and the cause of death for any family member who is deceased. Your family’s health history can affect when and how often you should be screened. You can then share this information with your doctor so you can make informed decisions for your health.


Men 

In your 50s

If you’re at average risk for prostate cancer, talk to your doctor about the pros and cons of screening starting at age 50.

  • Early detection of prostate cancer followed by prompt treatment saves lives, but some men are treated for prostate cancers that will never cause them harm, and they must live with the side effects or complications of the treatment. It’s important to know that there are tests that predict whether a newly-diagnosed prostate cancer is likely to be aggressive.

If you were born between 1945-1965, you may be at increased risk for hepatitis C, a leading cause of liver cancer. Talk to your doctor about getting tested for this virus. If you test positive for hepatitis C, there are treatment options available that can cure the virus and prevent liver cancer.

If you’re a heavy smoker or former smoker, ask your doctor about the pros and cons of screening for lung cancer. It’s recommended that current or former smokers ages 50-80 with a 20 pack-year histories be screened.

  • Screening for lung cancer with low-dose spiral CT significantly reduces lung cancer deaths by catching lung cancers in earlier, more treatable stages.

In your 40s

If you’re at average risk for colorectal cancer, start getting screened at age 45. 

  • If you can’t or won’t have a colonoscopy, talk with your doctor about other screening options, such as an at-home stool-based test.

In your 20s

Some doctors recommend that young men ages 15 – 35 may benefit from doing a monthly testicular self-exam. It’s one way to get to know what is normal for you. If you notice a change, say something right away.

If you haven’t been vaccinated against the human papillomavirus (HPV), talk to your doctor about getting vaccinated now. HPV can cause at least six types of cancer, including oropharyngeal cancer, which is on the rise in men.

Ask your family about any history of cancer or other chronic diseases, age of diagnosis, any surgeries related to cancer, and the cause of death for any family member who is deceased. Your family’s health history can affect when and how often you should be screened. You can then share this information with your doctor so you can make informed decisions for your health.

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