With some types of cancer, there are no outward symptoms in the early stages. And by the time symptoms appear, cancer may have already progressed to a more advanced and difficult-to-treat stage.
This is why cancer screenings are so important. Screenings are tests that look for cancer before there are any identifiable symptoms. They detect irregularities associated with the disease at its earliest and most treatable stage.
Starting around 45, everyone should begin getting screened for colon cancer. The most common screening test is a colonoscopy, which involves inserting a tiny camera into the colon and large intestine so the doctor can perform a visual examination.
If you have a higher risk factor for potential colon cancer, you may be advised to begin screening sooner, as early as 25. Risk factors include:
- family history of colorectal cancer
- some genetic disorders
- personal history of polyps, IBS, or pelvic radiation
Colonoscopies are typically recommended at least once every ten years, but risk factors and test results may suggest more or less frequent screenings.
Women should start getting annual mammograms starting around the age of 40.
Mammograms are generally not recommended before 40, except in cases of family history with breast cancer or known genetic mutations associated with breast cancer.
You should also stay aware of how your breasts usually look and feel and perform self-checks at home to identify any changes. If you notice anything abnormal, make an appointment with your doctor immediately.
Mammogram X-rays can detect tumors and spots in the breast tissue that may not be physically felt or seen.
All women with a cervix between 25 and 65 should get screened for cervical cancer.
This typically involves a Pap test every three years and an HPV test every five years. HPV (human papillomavirus) is known to be closely associated with cervical cancer, so the HPV test is used to identify individuals who may be at higher risk.
Starting around 45, men should consult with their doctor about whether or not to get screened for prostate cancer.
The blood test used to screen for prostate cancer is called a PSA (prostate-specific antigen) test. Due to the possibility of false positives and potential harms, recommendations for screening are made individually depending on risk factors and potential harms and benefits.