How to Get Screened for Cancer
Most screening tests are requested by your primary care doctor or gynecologist. Talk to your doctor about the various screenings you may need as you approach 40 to see what’s right for you based on your personal risk factors.
If you don’t have a doctor, there are things you can do and places you can call to find out how to get the screening tests you need. Call a local hospital, medical clinic, or health department and explain your situation, they might be able to guide you to a facility that does the screening test or to a clinic or doctor that can help.
Don't put it off.
Schedule your cancer screenings!
Exam of specific areas of the body used to help detect abnormalities:
- Clinical breast examination
- Digital rectal examination for prostate and rectal cancers
Tests that produce pictures of areas within the body:
- X-ray, CT, MRI
- Mammography for breast cancer
Tests that check; blood, urine, and other body fluids and tissues
- Pap test for cervical cancer
- Fecal occult blood test for colorectal cancer
Visual examinations by a health care professional
- Colonoscopy for colorectal cancer
- Skin examination to look for any signs of skin cancer
Breast Cancer Screening
Start screening with mammogram annually.
Age 75 and over:
Should continue with mammograms if their overall health is good, and they have a life expectancy of 10 or more years
Women who are high risk for breast cancer should get a breast MRI and a mammogram annually, typically starting 10 years prior to earliest breast cancer diagnosis in the family. Risk factors include:
- A lifetime risk of breast cancer of about 20% or greater, according to risk assessment tools that are based mainly on family history (i.e. Tyrer Cuzick)
- A known BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation (based on having had genetic testing) or other genetic predisposition for breast cancer
- A ﬁrst-degree relative (parent, brother, sister, or child) with BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation, but patient has not had genetic testing themselves
- Previous radiation therapy to the chest when they were between the ages of 10 and 30 years
Colorectal Cancer Screening
Screening for colorectal cancer is important because symptoms rarely appear until the tumor has grown considerably.
Risk factors for colorectal cancer include your age, race, personal history of polyps and your family history of polyps and colorectal cancer. People of average risk should start talking to their doctors about colorectal screening at age 45. If you're at high risk screening might start sooner.
Some risk factors for developing colorectal cancer can be controlled such as:
People at average risk (are in good health and with a life expectancy of more than 10 years) should continue regular colorectal cancer screenings.
The decision to be screened should be based on patient preference, life expectancy, overall health, and prior screening history.
Age 86 and Over:
Should no longer get colorectal cancer screening.
People who are at an increased or high risk for colorectal cancer might need screening before the age of 45, be screened more often, and/or get specific tests. Risk factors include:
- A personal history or a strong family history of colorectal cancer or certain types of polyps
- A personal history of inﬂammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease)
- A known family history of a hereditary colorectal cancer syndrome such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or Lynch syndrome (also known as hereditary non-polyposis colon cancer or HNPCC)
- A personal history of radiation to the abdomen (belly) or pelvic area to retreat a prior cancer
When Should You Start Colon Cancer Screenings?
Screening is important because it can prevent colorectal cancer by finding anything abnormal and treating it promptly before it develops into cancer.
Lung Cancer Screening
A lung cancer screening test is now available for those who qualify based on their history of smoking. A low-dose chest CT scan is performed to see if there are early signs of cancer developing in the lungs.
Age 50-80: Annual lung cancer screening with a low-dose CT scan (LDCT) if you are:
- In fairly good health
- A current or former smoker (within the past 15 years)
- Have at least a 20 pack-year smoking history
What’s New? As of March 2021, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) revised the recommended ages and pack-years for lung cancer screening. It expanded the age range from 50-80 years (previously 55 to 80 years) and reduced the pack-year history to 20 pack-years of smoking (previously 30 pack-years).
Talk to your primary care physician at your annual exam about the right lung cancer screening schedule for you.
Prostate Cancer Screening
No screening needed.
Consider screening with a PSA for average-risk patients. The decision to screen with PSA should be based on patient preference, family history, and current health.
Age 70 and older OR any man with less than 10-15 years life expectancy:
Should not be screened for prostate cancer routinely.
Consider screening with PSA in high-risk populations and African Americans with a positive family history starting at age 40. Risk factors include:
- Men with a ﬁrst-degree relative (father or brother) who had prostate cancer at an early age (younger than age 65)
- Men with a genetic predisposition for prostate cancer (BRCA1/2 positive or other genes)
Skin Cancer Screening
Periodic skin examinations are the key to diagnosing skin cancer at its earliest stage, when it is most easily cured.
If you’re at increased risk for skin cancer, you may need an annual skin cancer screening exam. You may be at increased risk if you have:
- Red or blond hair, fair skin, freckles and blue or light-colored eyes
- More than 50 moles
- History of frequent or intense sun exposure
- One or more blistering sunburns
- Family history of melanoma
- Personal history of basal cell and/or squamous cell skin cancers
Even if you aren’t at increased risk, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on your skin. If you notice an irregular mole or spot, schedule an appointment with your dermatologist for a diagnostic exam.
Talk to your dermatologist or primary care physician at your annual exam about the right skin cancer screening schedule for you.