When Should You Start Getting Cancer Screenings? A Guide for Men and Women

by Team Onco
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Cancer can be a terrifying word, and the thought of being diagnosed with it can be overwhelming. However, the good news is that many types of cancer can be detected early through regular screening tests. The question is, when should you start getting screened? And which screening tests are best for men and women? These are crucial questions that every individual should consider. In this blog, we’ll dive into the latest recommendations for cancer screenings for men and women, and explore the best age to start getting screened. By the end, you’ll have a better understanding of what you can do to improve your chances of detecting cancer early and ultimately, improving your chances of survival.

Screening Tests for Women:

Breast Cancer: 

Mammography is the primary screening test for detecting breast cancer. Women with an average risk of breast cancer should start getting mammograms at age 45 and continue to get them annually until age 54. After age 54, women can choose to continue getting annual mammograms (only if they are healthy enough) or switch to getting them every two years. However, women between 40 and 44 also have the option to start screening once a year. Women who are at an elevated risk of breast cancer, such as those with a family history of the disease, may require earlier or more frequent mammogram screenings.

Cancer screenings for men and women and what the right age to get them

Mammography

Other Promising Breast Cancer Screening Technologies:

Breast MRI is a new technology that is being studied for use in women with a higher risk of breast cancer. It is currently recommended as a supplementary screening tool for women who are at high risk of developing breast cancer. Ultrasound is also being researched as a potential alternative for women who are unable to undergo a mammogram. However, both these technologies are still being evaluated for their effectiveness in detecting breast cancer, and women should discuss their risk factors with their healthcare provider to determine the most appropriate screening method for them.

Cervical Cancer: 

Pap tests and HPV DNA tests are both available for cervical cancer screening. Additionally, colposcopy is another option for examining the cervix visually. This simple test entails using a colposcope, a specialized instrument, to examine the cervix and vagina for any abnormalities. If any unusual findings are observed during the exam, a biopsy may also be performed.

Women can start getting Pap tests at age 21 and continue to get them every three years until age 29. After age 30, women can choose to get a Pap test every three years, or a combination of a Pap test and an HPV test every five years, and continue to get screened until age 65 or 70. The HPV test is recommended for women aged 30 and over, and it’s usually done every five years along with a Pap test. If a woman has an abnormal Pap test, she may also be tested for HPV. Women who have had a hysterectomy may not need regular Pap tests. Women who have a higher risk of cervical cancer may need to get screened more frequently or start screening at an earlier age.

Know the link between HPA and Cervical Cancer

Ovarian Cancer: 

There is no standard screening test for ovarian cancer, but women who have a family history of ovarian or breast cancer may need to have a transvaginal ultrasound (TVUS) and a CA-125 blood test. TVUS utilizes sound waves to produce images of the ovaries, which can help identify potential abnormalities in high-risk women. However, it is not recommended for women at average risk because it can result in false-positive results. On the other hand, the CA-125 blood test measures the levels of CA-125 protein in the blood, which may increase in the case of ovarian cancer. However, this test is not recommended for screening because it can produce false-positive results, particularly in premenopausal women.

Women with an elevated risk of ovarian cancer, mainly with BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations may consider removing their ovaries and fallopian tubes after completing childbearing to reduce their risk of ovarian cancer. 

Screening Tests for Men: 

Prostate Cancer: 

There is no standard test for prostate cancer screening. However, two tests are commonly recommended, such as Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) test and Digital Rectal Examination (DRE). The PSA test is a blood test that measures the level of PSA in the blood, and elevated levels may indicate the presence of prostate cancer. The DRE involves a healthcare provider inserting a gloved and lubricated finger into the rectum to check for any abnormalities in the prostate.

Men with average risk should talk to their doctor about whether or not to have a PSA blood test starting at age 50. Men between the ages of 60 and 70, who are at higher risk of prostate cancer, can undergo a prostate examination and have a serum PSA test once a year. Men with a family history of prostate cancer may need to start screening earlier. 

Screening Tests For Both Men & Women:

Colorectal Cancer: 

When it comes to screening for colorectal cancer, colonoscopy and stool tests are the primary methods recommended. For those at average risk, regular colonoscopies once every 10 years should begin at age 45 and continue until the age of 75 (only if healthy enough and expected to live at least 10 more years). In between colonoscopies or for those unable to undergo colonoscopy, stool tests may be done once a year. For individuals between the ages of 76 and 85, the decision to continue screening should be made with their doctor based on personal preferences, prior screening results, overall health, and life expectancy. Those over 85 should no longer be screened for colorectal cancer.

However, individuals with higher risk factors should begin screening before the age of 45. Higher risk factors include:

  • Strong family history of colorectal cancer or certain types of polyps
  • Personal history of colorectal cancer or certain types of polyps
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Family history of hereditary syndromes such as FAP or Lynch syndrome
  • History of radiation therapy to the abdomen or pelvis

In addition to colonoscopy and stool tests, other screening options include CT colonography and flexible sigmoidoscopy, which should be done once every 5 years.

Oral Cancer:

Currently, there is no standard screening test for oral cancer. However, individuals who are at higher risk for oral cancer, such as those who use tobacco products, consume alcohol regularly or have a family history of oral cancer, may benefit from frequent oral cancer screening by visiting a dentist or an ENT specialist once a year. Screening tests for oral cancer typically involve a visual and physical exam of the mouth and throat by a healthcare provider. During the exam, the provider will look for any signs of abnormal growth or tissue changes, such as sores, lumps, or discolouration. They may also feel for any lumps or abnormalities in the neck, as some types of oral cancer can spread to the lymph nodes.

In addition to a physical exam, some healthcare providers may use special tools or techniques to aid in oral cancer screening. For example, the provider may use a special light or dye to better visualize any abnormal areas in the mouth, or they may perform a brush biopsy to collect cells from suspicious areas for further testing. It helps detect cancerous or pre-cancerous lesions early. 

Lung Cancer: 

Lung cancer lacks a standard screening test, but individuals at high risks, such as smokers or those with other risk factors, may benefit from annual low-dose CT (LDCT) scans of the chest. This screening is recommended once a year for people between 50 to 80 years old, and in good health. It is especially beneficial to those who currently smoke or quit smoking within the past 15 years, or those with a smoking history of 1 pack a day. However, screening is not suggested for individuals with lung cancer symptoms like coughing up blood or unexplained weight loss.

Liver Cancer:

The main tools for liver cancer screening are an ultrasound of the abdomen along with an alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) blood test. People who have high alcohol consumption habits or infections such as hepatitis B & C have high chances of liver damage, called liver cirrhosis, leading to an increased risk of liver cancer. Therefore, individuals with chronic hepatitis B and C, cirrhosis, and a family history of liver cancer should be screened every six months with an ultrasound and AFP blood test.

Stomach Cancer:

Stomach cancer screening is not recommended for the general population, but those with a strong family history of stomach cancer or specific gastric diseases may benefit from screening. Endoscopy is recommended once a year for some individuals, but not for everyone, for stomach cancer screening.

It’s important to note that these recommendations are general guidelines and may vary depending on individual risk factors. It’s always best to talk to your doctor about when to start getting screened and which tests are appropriate for you. In addition to regular cancer screening tests, there are other things you can do to reduce your risk of cancer, such as quitting smoking, eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and limiting your alcohol intake. 

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