Health Care

Your Essential Guide to Cancer Screenings by Age

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We hope your lifelong health journey never includes a cancer diagnosis. But it’s important to remember that when dealing with cancer diagnosis early detection is key and gives you your best chance at surviving and thriving. Keeping up with doctor-recommended preventive screenings is key to catching potential issues before they become bigger problems.

The following cancer screening recommendations are for people who have an average risk for cancer. If you have an increased risk — due to family history or your smoking history, for instance — you may need to be screened at an earlier age or more often. Talk to your doctor or health care provider to see what’s right for you.

Colorectal Cancer Screenings

The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends people with an average risk for colorectal cancer start regular screening at age 45, while the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) advises beginning screening at age 50. Talk with your doctor about the screening schedule that works best for you. If you have an increased risk for colorectal cancer, you may need to get tested at an earlier age. Ask your doctor which test you should have at your next checkup:

  • Colonoscopy : A colonoscopy is considered the gold standard for colorectal cancer screening. During this procedure, a thin, flexible tube with a camera (colonoscope) is inserted into the rectum and advanced through the colon. The camera allows the healthcare provider to visualize the lining of the colon and rectum, identify any abnormalities, and potentially remove polyps or take tissue samples (biopsies) for further examination.
    • Colonoscopy’s should be done every 10 years. every 10 years

  • Double Contrast Barium Enema: This technique involves filling the colon with barium sulfate solution and air, followed by X-ray imaging. It's less commonly used now due to advances in other screening methods.
    • Double Contrast Barium Enema’s should be done every five years.

  • Fecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT) or Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT): These tests detect small amounts of blood in the stool, which can be an early sign of colorectal cancer or precancerous polyps. You may be provided with a kit to collect a stool sample at home, which is then sent to a laboratory for analysis.
    • Fecal Occult Blood Tests or Fecal Immunochemical Tests should be performed annually.

  • Flexible Sigmoidoscopy: Similar to a colonoscopy, but it examines only the lower part of the colon (sigmoid colon) rather than the entire colon. This procedure may be recommended in certain situations, but it does not provide as comprehensive a view of the colon as a colonoscopy.
    • Flexible sigmoidoscopy should be performed every five years

  • Stool DNA Test: This test detects DNA changes in the stool that may indicate the presence of colorectal cancer or precancerous polyps. It is a non-invasive option that may be recommended for some individuals.
    • Stool DNA tests should be performed every three years

Breast Cancer Screening

Breast cancer screening aims to detect breast cancer at an early stage when treatment is most effective.

Yearly breast cancer screenings such as mammograms are recommended for women ages 45 to 54, then every other year for women ages 55 and older. Women with a heightened breast cancer risk should ask their doctors and health care providers about the risks and benefits of an annual MRI and mammogram.

  • Mammography: Mammography is the primary screening tool for breast cancer. It involves taking X-ray images of the breasts to detect signs of cancer, such as masses, calcifications, or other abnormalities. Screening mammography is typically recommended for women aged 40 and older, although screening guidelines may vary depending on individual risk factors and guidelines from different organizations.
    • Mammograms should be performed annually from ages 45-54 and then every other year beyond age 55.

  • 3D Mammography (Tomosynthesis): This advanced mammography technique provides three-dimensional images of the breast tissue, which may improve the detection of breast cancer and reduce false-positive results compared to traditional 2D mammography.

Breast Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): Breast MRI may be recommended for women at high risk of breast cancer, such as those with a strong family history or certain genetic mutations (e.g., BRCA1 or BRCA2). MRI can provide detailed images of the breast tissue and is often used in addition to mammography for high-risk individuals.

Cervical Cancer Screening

The USPSTF recommends women ages 21 to 29 get a Pap test, also known as a pap smear, once every three years. Women ages 30 to 65 years can choose to have a Pap test every three years, an HPV test once every five years, or a Pap test and an HPV test once every five years. Women older than 65 who have had normal screenings and do not have a high risk for cervical cancer do not need to be screened.

  • Pap Test (Pap Smear): During a Pap test, a healthcare provider collects cells from the cervix by gently scraping the surface of the cervix and the opening of the cervix (transformation zone). The cells are then examined under a microscope to look for any abnormalities, such as precancerous changes or cancerous cells. Pap tests can detect cervical cancer early or identify precancerous changes that can be treated to prevent cancer from developing.
    • Pap Tests should be performed once every 3 years for ages 21-29.
    • Pap Tests are given on an individualized schedule after the age of 65 depending on individual risk.

  • HPV Test: Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a common sexually transmitted infection that is a major risk factor for cervical cancer. HPV testing involves collecting cells from the cervix, similar to a Pap test, and testing them for the presence of high-risk strains of HPV. HPV testing may be used alone or in conjunction with a Pap test (co-testing) as part of cervical cancer screening.
    • HPV Tests should be performed once every 5 years for ages 30-65.
    • HPV Tests are given on an individualized schedule after the age of 65 depending on individual risk.

  • Colposcopy: If abnormalities are detected during a Pap test a colposcopy may be performed. Colposcopy involves using a special magnifying instrument called a colposcope to examine the cervix more closely. If abnormal areas are identified, a biopsy may be taken for further evaluation.
    • Colposcopies are only for further screening and should be given as needed based on provider recommendation.

Endometrial Cancer Screening

Screening recommendations for endometrial cancer may vary based on individual risk factors, age, and other considerations. Women with symptoms such as abnormal vaginal bleeding, pelvic pain, or postmenopausal bleeding should seek medical evaluation promptly, as these may indicate underlying gynecological conditions, including endometrial cancer.

After menopause, women who have bleeding or spotting should tell their doctors, who may order for screenings for endometrial cancer. There are 3 common tests for endometrial cancer:

  • Pelvic Examination: During a pelvic examination, the healthcare provider will visually inspect and palpate the uterus, ovaries, and surrounding pelvic structures for any abnormalities, such as unusual masses, enlargement of the uterus, or abnormal bleeding.
    • There is currently no routine screening test for endometrial cancer in asymptomatic women at average risk.

  • Transvaginal Ultrasound (TVUS): In some cases, a transvaginal ultrasound may be performed to evaluate the thickness of the endometrium (lining of the uterus). An increased thickness of the endometrium may indicate a potential abnormality warranting further investigation.
    • There is currently no routine screening test for endometrial cancer in asymptomatic women at average risk.

  • Endometrial Biopsy: If abnormalities are detected during a pelvic examination or transvaginal ultrasound, a biopsy of the endometrial tissue may be recommended. During this procedure, a small sample of tissue is collected from the lining of the uterus and examined under a microscope to look for signs of cancerous or pre-cancerous changes.
    • There is currently no routine screening test for endometrial cancer in asymptomatic women at average risk.

Women should discuss their individual risk factors and any concerning symptoms with their healthcare provider to determine the most appropriate screening plan for them. Early detection and timely treatment can improve outcomes for women with endometrial cancer.

Lung Cancer Screening

Lung cancer screenings play a critical role in the early detection and treatment of lung cancer, one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths worldwide. Lung cancer screenings are typically recommended for individuals at high risk of developing lung cancer, such as current or former heavy smokers aged 55 to 80 years who have a significant smoking history.

  • Low-Dose Computed Tomography (LDCT): LDCT is the primary screening test for lung cancer. It involves taking multiple low-dose X-ray images of the lungs to create detailed cross-sectional images. This allows healthcare providers to detect small nodules or abnormalities in the lungs that may indicate lung cancer. LDCT is typically recommended for adults aged 50 to 80 who have a history of heavy smoking (defined as a smoking history of 30 pack-years or more) and currently smoke or have quit within the past 15 years.
    • Screening for lung cancer is not typically recommended for individuals at average risk of lung cancer

Skin Cancer Screenings

A skin cancer screening is typically a visual examination and does not involve any invasive procedures unless a biopsy is recommended based on the findings. Regular skin cancer screenings, along with sun protection measures and self-examination practices, are important for early detection and prevention of skin cancer. If you notice any changes in your skin or have concerns about a mole or lesion, it's important to promptly consult a healthcare professional for evaluation.

  • Visual Inspection: The healthcare provider will visually inspect your skin from head to toe, examining areas that are commonly exposed to the sun as well as hidden areas that may be less frequently examined. They will look for any unusual or suspicious lesions, moles, or growths, paying attention to their size, shape, color, and texture.
    • Visual inspections should be performed annually

  • Dermoscopy: Dermoscopy is a non-invasive technique that allows the healthcare provider to examine the skin lesions more closely using a handheld device called a dermatoscope. Dermoscopy provides magnified views of the skin, allowing for better visualization of structural features and patterns within moles and lesions.
    • Dermoscopy should be performed annually with your health care provider.

Prostate Cancer Screening

The USPSTF recommends men ages 55 to 69 talk with their doctors about the pros and cons of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) screening. For men ages 70 and older, the USPSTF advises against screening. Recommendations from other organizations, including the ACS, differ slightly. However, all organizations agree that men should discuss the potential benefits and risks of prostate cancer screening with their physicians and make informed decisions.

  • Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) Test: The PSA test measures the level of PSA, a protein produced by the prostate gland, in the blood. Elevated PSA levels may indicate the presence of prostate cancer, but they can also be caused by other conditions such as benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) or inflammation of the prostate gland (prostatitis).
    • The PSA test is typically recommended for men aged 50 and older who have a life expectancy of at least 10 years. For men at higher risk, such as African American men or those with a family history of prostate cancer, screening may start earlier, around age 45.

  • Digital Rectal Examination (DRE): During a digital rectal examination, your healthcare provider will insert a gloved, lubricated finger into the rectum to feel the prostate gland for any abnormalities, such as lumps or hard areas. The DRE may be performed in conjunction with the PSA test as part of prostate cancer screening.

Benefits of Cancer Screenings

Cancer screenings play a crucial role in early detection, prevention, and ultimately, in reducing the burden of cancer on individuals. It's important for individuals to discuss their individual risk factors and screening options with their healthcare providers to determine the most appropriate screening plan for them.

Cancer screenings offer several important benefits in the early detection and prevention of cancer:

  • Early Detection: Screening tests can detect cancer at an early stage when it may be more treatable and potentially curable. Early detection allows for prompt initiation of appropriate treatment, which can improve outcomes and increase the chances of survival.
  • Prevention: Some cancer screening tests, such as colonoscopies for colorectal cancer and Pap tests for cervical cancer, can detect precancerous changes or abnormalities before they develop into cancer. Treating these precancerous conditions early can prevent the progression to invasive cancer.
  • Reduced Cancer Mortality: By detecting cancer early or identifying precancerous changes, screening programs can lead to a reduction in cancer-related deaths. Screening helps identify cancers at a stage when they are more responsive to treatment, thereby improving survival rates.
  • Improved Quality of Life: Early detection and treatment of cancer can lead to less aggressive treatment options, fewer side effects, and better preservation of overall health and quality of life for individuals diagnosed with cancer.
  • Opportunity for Lifestyle Modifications: Cancer screenings provide an opportunity for healthcare providers to discuss risk factors and promote healthy lifestyle behaviors that can reduce the risk of cancer. This may include smoking cessation, maintaining a healthy weight, adopting a balanced diet, and increasing physical activity.
  • Peace of Mind: For individuals who undergo cancer screenings and receive negative results, there is a sense of reassurance and peace of mind knowing that they are cancer-free or that any abnormalities detected can be closely monitored or treated.

Here for Your Long-Term Health

Regardless of the types of cancer you are getting screened for, family history, or previous cancer treatments, or your current test results AdventHealth is here for you. We walk side by side during every step of our patients journey. Choosing AdventHealth as part of your cancer prevention roadmap is a choice for long term care from an expert care team composed of primary care providers, oncologists, and nurses.

Whatever your gender, age or medical history, maintaining a relationship with a primary care provider will help keep track of your long-term health. To find a provider near you, use our convenient online physician finder.

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