Detect Cancers Early With Regular Screening Tests

Taking charge of your health matters, especially as COVID-19 surges. You can do this with regular cancer screening, which can detect cancers early, when they are most treatable or even curable.

Since all cancer screening presents benefits, limitations, and potential harms, you should discuss it with your doctor. Here are some helpful guidelines.

Breast Cancer

Striking one out of every eight women, breast cancer is the most common cancer in women, next to skin cancer. The care team at Weill Cornell Medicine urges you to familiarize yourself with how your breasts look and feel, so you can tell your doctor about any unusual lumps, pain, or changes in size.

Weill Cornell Medicine experts recommend that women at risk for breast cancer begin their annual mammograms at age 40. For patients who are 55 and older, they can either switch to mammograms every 2 years or continue with yearly screening.

We understand that many patients may have questions before and after receiving their mammogram results. As always, our radiologists are available to answer any questions. Our team is available to help navigate patients through breast imaging exams. Please visit here to learn more about our Breast Imaging Consultations services.

Cervical Cancer

This is the most frequently diagnosed cancer in women between the ages of 35 and 44; the average age at diagnosis is 50. Two standard screenings for cervical cancer are:

  • the Pap test, which can detect cervical cancer, as well as abnormal cells in the cervix that may become cancerous
  • the HPV test, which can find the human papillomavirus that can cause these cell changes

Women should start getting Pap tests at age 21. If their result is normal, then they may wait three years until their next Pap test. Women ages 30 to 65 years may need:

  • A Pap test every three years is their result is normal
  • An HPV test every five years if their result is normal
  • An HPV test and a Pap test every five years if both results are normal

Women older than 65 may not need any more screening if they have had:

  • normal screening test results for several years, or
  • their cervix removed as part of a total hysterectomy for non-cancerous conditions, like fibroids

Colorectal (Colon) Cancer

Colorectal cancer usually begins with polyps (abnormal growths) in the colon or rectum. To screen for colorectal cancer, your doctor will examine a sample of your stool, or conduct a visual exam of your colon and rectum to find cancer in its early stage, or polyps before they turn cancerous.

Regular screening should start at age 45, or earlier if you have a:

  • personal history of colorectal cancer, certain types of polyps, inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease), or receiving radiation in the abdomen (belly) or pelvic area to treat a prior cancer
  • family history of colorectal cancer
  • confirmed or suspected hereditary colorectal cancer syndrome, such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or Lynch syndrome

Continue regular screening:

  • through age 75 if you are healthy and expect to live more than 10 years
  • from ages 76 to 85, depending on your personal preferences, life expectancy, health, and screening history. After age 85, you no longer need colorectal cancer screening.

Lung Cancer

Lung cancer is the second most common cancer in men and women and the leading cause of cancer death. Found early, it may be treated successfully.  The United States Preventive Services Task Force recommends yearly lung cancer screening with low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) for people who:

  • Have a 20 pack-year* or more smoking history,  and
  • Currently smoke or have quit within the past 15 years,  and
  • Are between ages 50 and 80 years

*A  pack-year  is smoking an average of one pack of cigarettes per day for one year. Smoking one pack a day for 20 years or two packs a day for 10 years equals a 20 pack-year history.

Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States and worldwide, affecting 1 in 5 Americans by age 70. The two most common—and curable—types of skin cancer are basal and squamous cell carcinomas. Melanoma is the deadliest.

Screening for skin cancer entails a yearly, full-body, skin exam (more often if you are high-risk), during which your dermatologist will check for:

  • moles, birthmarks, or other areas that look  abnormal  in color, size, shape, or texture
  • a new growth or sore that doesn’t heal
  • a mole that changes

Recognizing the signs of melanoma is especially important. These A-B-C-D-Es can help:

  • Asymmetry: Is a mole or spot irregularly shaped with two very different looking parts?
  • Border: Is the border irregular or jagged?
  • Color: Is the color uneven?
  • Diameter: Is a mole or spot larger than the size of a pea?
  • volution: Has a mole or spot changed during the past few weeks or months?

Prostate Cancer

Prostate cancer is the second leading cancer death among American men after lung cancer. Most prostate cancers are detected when confined to the prostate, and treatment success rates exceed those of most other cancers. Still, there are aggressive forms of the disease, which is why you and your doctor must carefully weigh the benefits of screening. We urge you to learn about the  uncertainties, risks, and potential benefits of prostate cancer screening and discuss it with your doctor at age:

  • 50 if you are at average risk for prostate cancer and expect to live at least 10 more years
  • 45 if you are at high risk, which includes being African American or having a father or brother diagnosed with prostate cancer before age 65
  • 40 if you have more than one first-degree relative who had prostate cancer at an early age

The two most common forms of screening are the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test, and the digital rectal exam (DRE), which indicates if your prostate is enlarged or irregular.  If screening detects no prostate cancer, then the results of your PSA blood test will determine whether you should be retested yearly or every two years.