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May 2021

Your Essential Guide to Cancer Screenings

Detecting cancer early—when it’s most treatable—should be a key part of your self-care plan.

The following screening guidelines are for people who have an average risk for cancer. If you have an increased risk—due to your family history, for instance—ask your healthcare provider whether you should be screened at an earlier age or more often.

Keep in mind that different organizations have different screening recommendations. Talk with your provider to find out which screenings may be right for you. It's important to discuss the risks and benefits of each test.

Men and women: Colorectal cancer

The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends starting regular screening at age 45, while the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) advises beginning screening at age 50. Talk with your healthcare provider about the screening schedule that works best for you. Also, ask your provider which test you should have:

  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years

  • Colonoscopy every 10 years

  • Virtual colonoscopy every five years

  • Guaiac-based fecal occult blood test annually

  • Fecal immunochemical test annually

  • Stool DNA test every three years

Women: Breast cancer

The USPSTF recommends women get mammograms every other year starting at age 50. However, the ACS advises yearly mammograms for women ages 45 to 54. Women ages 55 and older can then switch to getting mammograms every other year, or they can choose to continue annual screenings.

Women: Cervical cancer 

According to the USPSTF, women ages 21 to 29 should get a Pap test once every 3 years. Women ages 30 to 65 years can choose to have a Pap test every 3 years, an HPV test once every 5 years, or a Pap test and an HPV test once every 5 years. The ACS recommends a different screening schedule, but both organizations note that women older than 65 who have had normal screenings don't need to be screened.

Women: Endometrial cancer

It’s important for women to learn about the risks and symptoms of endometrial cancer once they reach menopause. If you experience any unexpected bleeding or spotting, be sure to tell your provider. Depending on your health history, they may recommend a yearly endometrial biopsy screening.

Men: Prostate cancer

The USPSTF recommends men ages 55 to 69 talk with their healthcare providers about the pros and cons of 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 healthcare provider and make informed decisions. 

Online Medical Reviewer: Brian McDonough, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Ray Turley, BSN, MSN
Date Last Reviewed: 3/1/2021
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