Your healthcare provider will be able to recommend what cancer screenings are appropriate for you, as screening guidelines may vary depending on your personal health and family history. Here are the general cancer screening guidelines for adults from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
There is no true consensus on when screening should begin for breast cancer. The USPSTF recommends that women aged 40-49 begin talking to their healthcare provider about when to get screened for breast cancer. Women aged 50-74 with average risk should get mammograms every two years. If you have a family history of breast cancer or a genetic tendency, you may need an MRA in addition to a mammogram.
People aged 45-75 should be screened regularly for colorectal cancer. Testing options include:
- The guaiac-based fecal occult blood test (gFOBT) uses the chemical guaiac to detect blood in the stool. It is done once a year. For this test, you receive a test kit from your healthcare provider. At home, you use a stick or brush to obtain a small amount of stool. You return the test kit to the doctor or a lab, where the stool samples are checked for the presence of blood.
- The fecal immunochemical test (FIT) uses antibodies to detect blood in the stool. It is also done once a year in the same way as a gFOBT.
- The FIT-DNA test (also referred to as the stool DNA test) combines the FIT with a test that detects altered DNA in the stool. For this test, you collect an entire bowel movement and send it to a lab, where it is checked for altered DNA and for the presence of blood. It is done once every three years.
For this test, the doctor puts a short, thin, flexible, lighted tube into your rectum. The doctor checks for polyps or cancer inside the rectum and lower third of the colon.
How often: Every 5 years, or every 10 years with a FIT every year.
This is similar to flexible sigmoidoscopy, except the doctor uses a longer, thin, flexible, lighted tube to check for polyps or cancer inside the rectum and the entire colon. During the test, the doctor can find and remove most polyps and some cancers. Colonoscopy also is used as a follow-up test if anything unusual is found during one of the other screening tests.
How often: Every 10 years (for people who do not have an increased risk of colorectal cancer).
CT Colonography (Virtual Colonoscopy)
Computed tomography (CT) colonography, also called a virtual colonoscopy, uses X-rays and computers to produce images of the entire colon, which are displayed on a computer screen for the doctor to analyze.
How often: Every 5 years.
Guidelines recommend beginning to screen for cervical cancer between the ages of 21-25 with Pap tests, with repeat tests every three years. You may also get an HPV test beginning at age 25. After age 30, co-testing (Pap test + 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 recommend getting another Pap done sometime between six months and a year after the initial test or will recommend an exam of the cervix called a colposcopy.
If you’re at a high risk of lung cancer because of past or current smoking, your healthcare provider might recommend that you be screened for lung cancer with a CT scan beginning at age 50.
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.
“Screening Tests.” Division of Cancer Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). CDC. May 19, 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/dcpc/prevention/screening.htm.