Guidelines for Early Detection
The following American Cancer Society screening guidelines are recommended for those people at average risk for cancer (unless otherwise specified) and without any specific symptoms.
People who are at increased risk for certain cancers may need to follow a different screening schedule, such as starting at an earlier age or being screened more often. Those with symptoms that could be related to cancer should see their doctor right away.
For people age 20 or older having periodic health exams, a cancer-related checkup should include health counseling, and depending on a person’s age and gender, might include exams for cancers of the thyroid, oral cavity, skin, lymph nodes, testes and/or ovaries, as well as for some non-malignant (non-cancerous) diseases.
Special tests for certain cancer sites are recommended as outlined below:
- Yearly mammograms are recommended starting at age 40 and continuing for as long as a woman is in good health.
- Clinical breast exams (CBEs) should be part of a periodic health exam, about every three years for women in their 20s and 30s, and every year for women 40 and over.
- Women should know how their breasts normally feel and report any breast change promptly to their healthcare providers. Breast self-exam (BSE) is an option for women starting in their 20s.
- Women at increased risk (for example, family history, genetic tendency, past breast cancer) should talk with their doctors about the benefits and limitations of starting mammography screening earlier, having additional tests (for example, breast ultrasound or MRI), or having more frequent exams.
Colon and Rectal Cancer
Beginning at age 50, both men and women should follow one of these five testing schedules:
- Yearly fecal occult blood test (FOBT)* or fecal immunochemical test (FIT)
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years
- Yearly FOBT* or FIT, plus flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years**
- Double-contrast barium enema every five years
- Colonoscopy every 10 years
*For FOBT, the take-home multiple sample method should be used.
**The combination of yearly FOBT or FIT flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years is preferred over either of these options alone.
All positive tests should be followed up with a colonoscopy. People should talk to their doctor about starting colorectal cancer screening earlier and/or undergoing screening more often if they have any of the following colorectal cancer risk factors:
- A personal history of colorectal cancer or adenomatous polyps
- A strong family history of colorectal cancer or polyps (cancer or polyps in a first-degree relative [parent, sibling, or child] younger than 60 or in two first-degree relatives of any age)
- A personal history of chronic inflammatory bowel disease
- A family history of an hereditary colorectal cancer syndrome (familial adenomatous polyposis or hereditary non-polyposis colon cancer)
- All women should begin cervical cancer screening about three years after they begin having vaginal intercourse, but no later than when they are 21 years old. Screening should be done every year with the regular Pap test or every two years using the newer liquid-based Pap test.
- Beginning at age 30, women who have had three normal Pap test results in a row may get screened every two to three years. Another reasonable option for women over 30 is to get screened every three years (but not more frequently) with either the conventional or liquid-based Pap test, plus the HPV DNA test. Women who have certain risk factors such as diethylstilbestrol (DES) exposure before birth, HIV infection, or a weakened immune system due to organ transplant, chemotherapy or chronic steroid use should continue to be screened annually.
- Women 70 years of age or older, who have had three or more normal Pap tests in a row and no abnormal Pap test results in the last 10 years, may choose to stop having cervical cancer screenings. Women with a history of cervical cancer, DES exposure before birth, HIV infection or a weakened immune system should continue to have screenings as long as they are in good health.
- Women who have had a total hysterectomy (removal of the uterus and cervix) may also choose to stop having cervical cancer screenings, unless the surgery was done as a treatment for cervical cancer or precancer. Women who have had a hysterectomy without removal of the cervix should continue to follow the guidelines above.
Endometrial (Uterine) Cancer
The American Cancer Society recommends that at the time of menopause, all women should be informed about the risks and symptoms of endometrial cancer, and strongly encouraged to report any unexpected bleeding or spotting to their doctors. For women with high risk for hereditary non-polyposis colon cancer (HNPCC), annual screening should be offered for endometrial cancer with endometrial biopsy beginning at age 35.
Both the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test and digital rectal examination (DRE) should be offered annually, beginning at age 50, to men who have at least a 10-year life expectancy. Men at high risk (African-American men and men with a strong family history of one or more first-degree relatives [father, brothers] diagnosed before age 65) should begin testing at age 45. Men at even higher risk, due to multiple first-degree relatives affected at an early age, could begin testing at age 40. Depending on the results of this initial test, no further testing might be needed until age 45.
Information should be provided to all men about what is known and what is uncertain about the benefits, limitations and dangers of early detection and treatment of prostate cancer so that they can make an informed decision about testing.