cancer screeningsAt OHC, we know that getting checked for cancer is one of the most important things we can do for our health.

When doctors or other clinicians check for cancer, or for abnormal cells that may become cancer, in people who have no symptoms, it’s known as a screening. Screenings are important because they can detect abnormal tissue or cancer early, when it may be easier to treat. If people delay or don’t have regular screenings, by the time symptoms appear, the cancer may have begun to spread and be harder to treat.

Here is a list of the most common cancer screenings. OHC recommends you talk with your primary care provider or one of our cancer experts about your history and family’s history of cancer to determine which screenings you should have, when you begin, and how often you should have them.

Screening for Breast Cancer

  • Types of screenings for breast cancer:
    • Mammography is a type of x-ray specifically designed to view the breast. The images produced by mammography can show tumors or irregularities in the breast. These images are called mammograms.
    • Clinical breast examination. A medical professional looks and feels for any changes in the breast’s size or shape. The examiner also looks for changes in the skin of the breasts and nipples.
    • Women should be familiar with how their breast look and feel and report any changes to their doctor.
    • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). An MRI is not regularly used to screen for breast cancer. But it may be helpful for women with a higher risk of breast cancer, those with dense breasts, or when a lump is found during a breast exam. A breast ultrasound may be done prior to an MRI if an abnormality is found on mammogram.
  • Age:
    • Women ages 40 to 44 should have the choice to start annual breast cancer screening with mammograms if they wish to do so.
    • Women age 45 to 54 should get mammograms every year.
    • Women age 55 and older should switch to mammograms every 2 years or can continue yearly screening.
    • Screening should continue if a woman is in good health and is expected to live 10 more years or longer.
  • History
    • Family history is important when determining breast cancer screening. Be sure to discuss your family history with your health care provider to ensure you receive the most appropriate screening.

Screening for Cervical Cancer

  • Age:
    • Cervical cancer screening should start at age 21.
    • Women between the ages of 21 and 29 should have a Pap test done every 3 years. Human papillomavirus (HPV) testing should not be used in this age group unless it’s needed after an abnormal Pap test result.
    • Women between the ages of 30 and 65 should have a Pap test plus an HPV test (called “co-testing”) done every 5 years.
    • Women over age 65 who have had regular cervical cancer testing in the past 10 years with normal results should not be tested for cervical cancer. Once testing is stopped, it should not be started again. Women with a history of a serious cervical pre-cancer should continue to be tested for at least 20 years after that diagnosis, even if testing goes past age 65.
  • A woman who has had her uterus and cervix removed (a total hysterectomy) for reasons not related to cervical cancer and who has no history of cervical cancer or serious pre-cancer should not be tested.
  • All women who have been vaccinated against HPV should still follow the screening recommendations for their age groups.
  • Some women – because of their health history (HIV infection, organ transplant, DES exposure, etc.) – may need a different screening schedule for cervical cancer. Talk to your healthcare provider about your history.
  • The HPV vaccine is recommended for boys and girls age 9-12 . Anyone age 13-26 that did not get vaccinated or did not get both vaccines, should be vaccinated as soon as possible. In the United States the vaccine is approved through age 45 but will not be appropriate for everyone. Please discuss with your healthcare provider.
  • Be sure to share any family history of cancer with your doctor.

Screening for Colorectal Cancer

  • Type of screenings for colorectal cancer:
    • Colonoscopy. During the procedure, the doctor inserts a flexible, lighted tube called a colonoscope into the rectum. The doctor is able to check the entire colon for polyps or cancer.
    • Sigmoidoscopy. The doctor uses a flexible, lighted tube called a sigmoidoscope to check the lower colon for polyps and cancer. The doctor does not check the upper part of the colon with this test.
    • Fecal occult blood test (FOBT). This test finds blood in the feces or stool that is not visible, which can be a sign of polyps or cancer.
    • Double contrast barium enema. This is an x-ray of the colon and rectum. The barium enema helps the outline of the colon and rectum stand out on the x-rays. Doctors use this test to screen people who cannot have a colonoscopy.
    • Stool DNA tests. This test analyzes DNA from a person’s stool sample to look for cancer. It uses DNA changes found in polyps and cancers to help a doctor decide if a colonoscopy is needed.
  • There are other less invasive tests that may be appropriate for certain individuals. You should discuss these options with your healthcare provider.
  • Age:
    • For people at average risk for colorectal cancer, the American Cancer Society recommends starting regular screening at age 45.
    • If you’re in good health, you should continue regular screening through age 75.
    • For people ages 76 through 85, talk with your health care provider about whether continuing to get screened is right for you. When deciding, take into account your own preferences, overall health, and past screening history.
    • People over 85 should no longer get colorectal cancer screening but should discuss with their healthcare provider.
    • Be sure to share any family history of cancer with your doctor.

Screening for Head and Neck Cancers

  • OHC recommends a screening for head and neck cancer each year as part of an annual check-up for people who:
    • Are age 55 or older and,
    • Routinely drink alcohol
    • Use tobacco products or have used tobacco products
    • Have possible exposure to HPV
  • During this exam, the doctor looks in the nose, mouth, and throat for abnormalities and feels for lumps in the neck.
  • Regular dental check-ups are also important, so your dentist can look for signs of head and neck cancers.
  • Be sure to discuss any family history of cancer with your doctor.

Screening for Lung Cancer

A yearly lung cancer screening with a low-dose CT scan is recommended for certain people at higher risk for lung cancer who meet the following conditions:

  • Are aged 55 to 74 years and in fairly good health
    and
  • Currently smoke or have quit smoking in the past 15 years
    and
  • Have smoked an average of one pack per day for at least 30 years or the equivalent (example, two packs a day for 15 years)

Before getting screened, you should talk to your health care provider about:

  • Your risk for lung cancer
  • How you can quit using any form of tobacco
  • The possible benefits, limits, and harms of lung cancer screening
  • Where you can get screened

Screening for Prostate Cancer

OHC recommends men have a conversation with their doctor about screening for prostate cancer. The conversation should include family history, symptoms and age. Based on the discussion, your doctor should develop an individualized approach for when and how you should screen. The American Cancer Society recommends these conversations should begin:

  • At age 50 for men who are at average risk of prostate cancer and are expected to live at least 10 more years.
  • At age 45 for men at high risk of developing prostate cancer. This includes African Americans and men who have a first-degree relative (father or brother) diagnosed with prostate cancer at an early age (younger than age 65).
  • At age 40 for men at even higher risk (those with more than one first-degree relative who had prostate cancer at an early age).

Screening for Skin Cancer

Although the ACS does not have guidelines for the early detection of skin cancer, knowing your own skin is critical to finding skin cancer early. Learn the patterns of moles, blemishes, freckles, and other marks on your skin so that you’ll notice any changes.

  • Regular skin self-exams are especially important for people who are at higher risk of skin cancer, such as people with reduced immunity, people who have had skin cancer before, and people with a strong family history of skin cancer. Talk with your doctor about how often you should examine your skin.
  • Skin self-exams are best done in a well-lit room in front of a full-length mirror. Use a hand-held mirror for areas that are hard to see, such as the backs of your thighs.
  • All areas should be examined, including your palms and soles, scalp, ears, nails, and your back. Friends and family members can also help you with these exams, especially for those hard-to-see areas, such as your scalp and back. Be sure to show your doctor any areas that concern you and ask your doctor to look at areas that may be hard for you to see.
  • Any spots on the skin that are new or changing in size, shape, or color should be checked by a doctor. Any unusual sore, lump, blemish, marking, or change in the way an area of the skin looks or feels may be a sign of skin cancer or a warning that it might occur. The area might become red, swollen, scaly, crusty or begin oozing or bleeding. It may feel itchy, tender or painful.
  • Be sure to discuss any family history of cancer with your doctor.