Screening tests can help find cancer at an early stage, before symptoms appear. When abnormal tissue or cancer is found early, it may be easier to treat or cure. By the time symptoms appear, the cancer may have grown and spread. This can make the cancer harder to treat or cure. It is important to remember that when your doctor suggests a screening test, it does not always mean he or she thinks you have cancer. Screening tests can be done when you have no cancer symptoms. Some of the cancer screening tests you should ask your health care professional about include:
Mammograms, X-rays of the breast, are the best way to find breast cancer early, when it is easier to treat. Women who are 50-74 years old and at average risk for breast cancer should get a mammogram every two years. Women who are 40-49 years old should talk to their\ doctor about when to start and how often to get a mammogram. Additionally, being familiar with how your breasts look and feel can help you notice symptoms, such as lumps, pain or changes in size, that may be of concern.
A colonoscopy can find precancerous polyps that can be removed before they turn into cancer. Screening tests also can find colorectal cancer early, when treatment works best.
Adults age 45-75 should be screened for colorectal cancer. Adults age 76-85 need to ask their doctor if they should be screened. If you think you may be at increased risk for colorectal cancer, ask your doctor when to begin screening, which test is right for you, and how often to get tested.
A blood test called a prostate specific antigen (PSA) test measures the level of PSA in the blood. PSA is a substance made by the prostate. Levels of PSA in the blood can be higher in men who have prostate cancer. PSA levels may also be elevated in other conditions that affect the prostate. Men who are 55-69 years old with a family history of prostate cancer, or African American (who are at increased risk), should ask their doctor for guidance about when to get a PSA test.
A Pap test can find abnormal cells in the cervix which may turn into cancer. The HPV test looks for the virus (human papillomavirus) that can cause these cell changes. Women should start getting Pap tests at age 21.
If your Pap test result is normal, your doctor may tell you to wait three years between tests. If you are over a woman age 65 with normal screening test results, or you had your cervix removed as part of a total hysterectomy for noncancerous conditions, you may not need to be screened anymore.
Yearly lung cancer screening with a low-dose computed tomography (CT) scan is recommended for people who have a history of heavy smoking, smoke now, or have quit within the past 15 years, and are between 50-80 years old. The best way to reduce your risk of lung cancer is to not smoke and to avoid secondhand smoke. Lung cancer screening is not a substitute for quitting smoking. If you are thinking about getting screened for lung cancer, talk to your doctor for advice.