Screening Guidelines

Below contains information on screening guidelines for some of the most common cancers in the United States. Visit the American Cancer Society online for information on other types of cancer not listed here.

Breast Cancer
Colon Cancer
Lung Cancer
Prostate Cancer
Skin Cancer

Breast Cancer

  • Breast self-exam (BSE) is recommended for women starting in their 20s. Women should report any breast change promptly to their healthcare providers.
  • Clinical breast exams (CBE) 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.
  • Yearly mammograms should start at age 40 and should continue for as long as a woman is in good health.
  • Women at increased risk (e.g., those with a family history, genetic tendency, and/or past incidence of breast cancer) should talk with their doctors about the benefits and limitations of starting mammography screening earlier, having additional tests (e.g., breast ultrasound or MRI), or having more frequent exams.

Colon Cancer
The American Cancer Society recommends that, beginning at age 50, both men and women should follow one of the screening options below:

  • Yearly stool blood test (FOBT);
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years; or
  • Yearly stool blood test plus flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years. (Of the first three options, the ACS recommends the third option. That is, stool blood test every year plus flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years.)

Or you may have:

  • Double contrast barium enema every five to 10 years, or
  • Colonoscopy every 10 years.

Lung Cancer
Currently, there are no lung cancer screenings recommended for everyone. Your doctor should order testing for you based on your individual needs. The use of chest x-rays and checking sputum (spit) under a microscope to look for cancer cells has been studied for several years. Recently, a new x-ray method called spiral CT scanning has shown some promise in finding early lung cancer in smokers and former smokers.

If you have any of the following symptoms, you should consult your physician to discuss your options for lung cancer screening:

  • A cough that does not go away,
  • Chest pain (often made worse by deep breathing),
  • Hoarseness,
  • Weight loss and loss of appetite,
  • Bloody or rust-colored sputum (spit or phlegm),
  • Shortness of breath,
  • Recurring infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia, and/or
  • New onset of wheezing.

When lung cancer spreads to distant organs, it may cause the following:

  • Bone pain,
  • Weakness or numbness of the arms or legs,
  • Dizziness,
  • Yellow coloring of the skin and eyes (jaundice), or
  • Masses near the surface of the body, caused by cancer spreading to the skin or to lymph nodes in the neck or above the collarbone.

Prostate Cancer

  • 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 (e.g., fathers or brothers) diagnosed at an early age—should begin testing at age 45.
  • Men at even higher risk, due to having 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.

Skin Cancer
The American Cancer Society Recommends that:

  • Anyone between the ages of 20 and 40 should get a cancer-related checkup, including a skin examination, every three years.
  • Anyone age 40 and older should get a yearly check-up.
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