Cancer screening guidelines for adults

Your healthcare provider will be able to recommend what cancer screenings are appropriate for you, but the general cancer screening guidelines for adults from the American Cancer Society are as follows:

  • Breasts: Women aged 45-54 should get mammograms every year, and women 55 and older can switch to every two years or continue every year. If you have a family history of breast cancer or a genetic tendency, you may need an MRA in addition to a mammogram. 
  • Colon: Men and women over 50 should start a screening plan for colorectal cancer. According to the CDC, there are three tests that providers use to screen this: a high-sensitivity fecal occult blood test, which checks stool for hidden blood and is performed yearly; a flexible sigmoidoscopy, in which the walls of the rectum and lower part of the colon are inspected and is performed every three years; and a colonoscopy, which should be performed every 10 years. Colonoscopies are also used for diagnostic purposes.
  • Cervix: Women should start being screened for cervical cancer at 21, and between 21 and 29, they should have a pap test done every three years. After age 30, a pap test and an HPV test should be done every five years (or a pap test every three years). If a test is abnormal or shows cell changes, a healthcare provider will probably request getting another pap done sometime between six months and a year after the initial test.
  • Uterus: If you have a particular history, your healthcare provider might recommend yearly endometrial biopsies to screen for endometrial, or uterine, cancer. If not, you should be made aware of the risks and symptoms when you start menopause and see your healthcare provider with any symptoms or concerns.
  • Lungs: If you’re at a high risk of lung cancer because of smoking or other issues, your healthcare provider might recommend that you be screened for lung cancer.
  • Prostate: At age 50, men should talk to their healthcare providers to determine whether screening for prostate cancer is right for them. Men who have a family history that puts them at risk for prostate cancer should talk to a healthcare provider beginning at age 45.

For ovarian, prostate, and skin cancer, screenings haven’t yet been shown to reduce deaths, and your healthcare provider might recommend against screenings if you don’t have symptoms or a family history indicating that you might be at risk. For some forms of cancer, there are self-examinations you can perform at home with more regularity.

If you have any questions about cancer or cancer screenings, don’t hesitate to ask your healthcare provider.

  • “Cancer Screening Tests.” CDC. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. July 26, 2016. Web.
  • “Colorectal Screening Guidelines.” CDC. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. February 26, 2014. Web.
  • “American Cancer Society Guidelines for the Early Detection of Cancer.” American Cancer Society. American Cancer Society. July 26, 2016. Web.
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