Checking for cancer (or for conditions that may become cancer) in people who have no symptoms is called screening.
Screening can help doctors find and treat several types of cancer early. Early detection is important because when abnormal tissue or cancer is found early, it may be easier to treat. By the time symptoms appear, cancer may have begun to spread and is harder to treat.
Several screening tests have been shown to detect cancer early and to reduce the chance of dying from that cancer. These tests are described on the Screening Tests page.
• Breast cancer
Women ages 40 to 44 should have the choice to start annual mammograms if they wish to do so.
Women ages 45 to 54 should get mammograms each year.
Screening tests can have false-negative results—the test indicates that cancer is not present even though it is.Women ages 55 and older can switch to mammograms every 2 years, or continue yearly screening if they wish.
Screennig should continue for as long as a woman is in good health and expects to live at least 10 more years.
Women should know how their breasts normally look and feel and report any breast change to a health professional right away.
Some women may want to start screening for breast cancer earlier depending on their family and medical history.
• Colon cancer
Women should start screening at age 50, or earlier if they have a family history of colon or rectal cancer or colon problems that raise their risk.
Screening tests can often find growths called polyps, which can be removed before they turn into cancer. These tests also can find colon and rectal cancer earlier, when treatments are more likely to be successful.
There are several different tests that screen for colon and rectal cancer, including take-home options. Talk to your doctor about when you should start and which tests might be right for you.
• Endometrial cancer
At the time of menopause, all women should be told about the risks and symptoms of endometrial cancer and strongly encouraged to report any vaginal bleeding, discharge, or spotting to their doctor.
Some women – because of their history – may need to consider having a yearly endometrial biopsy. Talk with a doctor about your history.
• Lung cancer
Women ages 55 to 74 who are or were heavy smokers should talk to a doctor about whether a low-dose CT scan to screen for lung cancer is right for them.
People who have never smoked or who quit long ago can and do also get lung cancer, but for them the risks of screening usually outweigh the benefits.
Screening does not make it OK to keep using tobacco. If you or the women in your life smoke, call the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345 for help quitting.
• Cervical cancer
All women should begin cervical cancer screening at age 21.
Women between the ages of 21 and 29 should have a Pap test every 3 years. They should not be tested for HPV unless it’s needed after an abnormal Pap test result.
Women between the ages of 30 and 65 should have both a Pap test and an HPV test every 5 years. This is the preferred approach, but it’s also OK to have a Pap test alone every 3 years.
Women over age 65 who have had regular screenings with normal results should not be screened for cervical cancer. Women who have been diagnosed with cervical cancer or pre-cancer should continue to be screened according to the recommendations of a doctor.
Women who have had their uterus and cervix removed in a hysterectomy and have no history of cervical cancer or pre-cancer should not be screened.
Women who have had the HPV vaccine should still follow the screening recommendations for their age group.
Women who are at high risk for cervical cancer may need to be screened more often. Women at high risk might include those with HIV infection, organ transplant, or exposure to the drug DES. They should talk with a doctor or nurse about what screening plan is best for them.
• Skin cancer
Be aware of all moles and spots on your skin, and report any changes to a doctor right away.
Have a skin exam done during your regular health check-ups.