Cancer Screening Can Save Your Life

Keep up to date with the latest cancer screening guidelines and recommendations. Early cancer detection is the best solution to saving your life.

The goal of cancer screening is to find disease at early stages in people who are otherwise asymptomatic—before it causes symptoms and when it may be more easily treatable. Screening tests are not available for every type of cancer, but for certain cancers—such as breast, colon, and cervical—there are tests available that are low risk and effective at detecting early disease. Because these screening methods have proven to be very effective, they are recommended for the general population as a means of early detection. In general, the recommended age guidelines to begin screening tests for a particular disease correspond to the age at which that disease is most likely to develop and become detectable. The frequency of screening tests corresponds to the natural history of the disease.

Screening programs are recommended (or not), for populations as a whole, and it is important to realize that not all screening programs—or recommendations not to screen—apply to every person. People who have a high risk of a particular disease—because of a known genetic predisposition, family history, or an associated disease process—may be recommended to undergo a different regimen of testing compared with persons who are at average risk. Also, not every physician will recommend every known screening test for every suitable patient. Being aware of the current recommended guidelines for cancer screening will encourage you to stay healthy, get regular checkups, and work with your doctor (usually your primary care physician) to get appropriate screening tests.

Three years after becoming sexually active with vaginal intercourse begin screening.

  • Age 21:  All women should have a Pap test annually and a liquid-based Pap test every two years.
  • Age 30: Women who have had three normal Pap tests may decrease screening to every two years or every three years in conjunction with a human papillomavirus (HPV) DNA test.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women.

  • Age 30: Women should be aware of the look and feel of their breasts and report any changes to a care provider as soon as possible. Breast self-exams may help women become familiar with their breasts but are not recommended as a screening tool.
  • Age 40: Women at average risk should have annual mammograms and continuing for as long as the woman is in good health. Recommendations are undergoing a bit of controversy right now-make sure you discuss with your doctor.

Colon cancer is cancer of the large intestine (colon), which is the final part of your digestive tract. At age 50,  people of average risk should undergo:

  • Fecal occult blood test (home multiple sample kit) annually
  • Fecal immunochemical test (home multiple sample kit) annually Or one of these tests:
    • Flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years
    • Colonoscopy every 10 years
    • Double contrast barium enema every five years
    • Computed tomography colonography every five years

Skin cancer is the abnormal growth of skin cells. It most often develops on areas of skin exposed to the sun’s rays. Skin cancer is far and away the most common cancer in the United States, affecting an estimated one of five Americans by the age of 70.

  • Regular examination of the skin by all people (as well as by their doctor during checkups) will increase the chance of finding skin cancers early. Monthly self-examination of skin will make people familiar with their own natural pattern of moles and birthmarks and help them find any change in skin lesions, which should be reported to a doctor. Regular skin checks by a doctor are indicated for people who already had skin cancer.

Written by: Charles H. Weaver, MD

Charles H. Weaver, MD, is a former cancer researcher, and pioneer of Internet-based cancer education. Dr. Weaver received his medical training at the University of Pennsylvania, National Institutes of Health and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center where as a stem cell researcher authored ~ 75 articles on stem transplant, lymphoma, breast cancer and health outcomes in major medical journals including the New England Journal of Medicine.  He has given grand rounds and lectured internationally on stem cell treatments at The University of London, The University of Heidelberg, Duke, Stanford, Georgetown, and over 100 other cancer centers.  In 1998 he founded Cancer Connect and currently serves as Executive Editor.  By combining information and a social community now used by leading cancer centers including Dana Farber and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centers Cancer Connect provides cancer patients and their caregivers a unique destination to seek information, support, and inspiration. Dr. Weaver is significantly involved with Cancer Advocacy, Education and Women’s Health issues, having appeared on The Today Show to discuss these issues.  He has written extensively on all aspects of cancer management, and is also the Executive Editor and Publisher of Women Magazine, a quarterly magazine dedicated to covering cancer prevention, treatment and wellness issues for all women.

CancerConnect – The CancerConnect Community is a fully moderated, peer-to-peer support group for cancer patients and caregivers. CancerConnect offers patients and caregivers access to educational content, daily cancer news, and a thriving community to learn, share information, and support each other.