Four Cancer Screenings that is Meant for Everyone to do
Cancer, in all its forms, can too often take people entirely by surprise. When it does, the disease can be in its late stages by the time people receive a diagnosis, and by that time, treatment options are more limited. One of the best ways to catch cancer early and in its most treatable stages is cancer screenings.
Screenings are performed before a patient has any identifiable symptoms. They help detect any small irregularities or problems that are cancerous, or sometimes even precancerous, and have proven to be effective at reducing the number of deaths from some types of cancer.
There are many types of screenings available, and which you should consider can vary by age, gender, and personal risk factors. Below is a breakdown of the most recommended screenings for everyone and essential screenings for both men and women specifically.
Screenings for Everyone
Some cancer screenings are recommended for both men and women, specifically tests or procedures designed to detect early signs of colon or lung cancer.
1. Colon Cancer
Some people should be screened regularly for colon cancer starting at or between the ages of 45 and 50, including those who do not have a personal or family history of colorectal cancer or cancer syndrome, certain types of polyps, any sort of inflammatory bowel disease, or a personal history of receiving abdominal or pelvic radiation to treat other cancers.
If you fall into any of those categories, you may be at an increased or higher risk for colon cancer and may need to begin screening before the recommended age, have specific types of screenings done, or be screened more often. Your medical provider can help you determine what may be best for you.
Screenings should be done for people in good health through the age of 75 at intervals determined by the kind of procedure performed. People aged 75-85 may be screened depending on personal risk factors. After 85, people generally don’t need to continue the procedure.
Your doctor can tell you which type of screening test would be most appropriate for you to get. The most commonly performed colon cancer screenings generally fall into one of two categories: visual or structural exams of the colon and rectum (ex. colonoscopy), and stool-based tests.
2. Visual or Structural Exams
A colonoscopy is the most common visual exam performed and should be done once every ten years. A camera is inserted into the rectum and colon (large intestine) to allow a doctor to see if there are any growths or signs of cancer.
Other visual exams include virtual computed tomography (CT) colonoscopy and a flexible sigmoidoscopy; both of these procedures require five-year re-screening.
3. Stool-Based Tests
Stool-based tests can check for hidden blood inside a person’s stool that could signal health issues, as well as changes in cellular DNA that might indicate cancer or precancerous conditions. These less invasive procedures need to be performed annually (or every three years for the DNA test).
If a stool-based test comes back with unexpected results, a follow-up colonoscopy is usually required to determine the source of the issue.
4. Lung Cancer
Men or women aged 55 or older should talk to a health care provider about their smoking history, and if screening for lung cancer would be advisable. Lung cancer is easier to treat when it’s in its earliest stages.
You should get yearly lung cancer screenings if all of the following apply to you:
- A current or former smoker that has quit within the last 15 years
- A heavy smoker (or used to be)—that is, you have a 30-pack year smoking history (i.e. at least one pack a day for 30 years, two packs a day for 15 years, and so on)
- Age 55-80 years and doesn’t have any symptoms
Previously, these screenings used regular chest X-rays, but low-dose CT scans (LDCT) are more accurate and have replaced X-rays in recent years. Scans are recommended yearly until the person turns 81 years old or has not smoked in 15 or more years, whichever comes first.
- American Cancer Society. Cancer screening guidelines by age.
- National Cancer Institute. Screening Tests for Cancer. 2019.
- American Cancer Society. Guideline for colorectal cancer screening. 2018.
- U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Lung cancer: screening. 2013.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cervical cancer: What should I know about screening? 2019.