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6 Cancer Screenings to Schedule this Year

February 20, 2024

Doctor checking an area on a patient's neck

You likely already know that annual checkups with your primary care physician are important to monitor your overall health and wellbeing. But you should also get regular cancer screenings to find any issues, ensure a speedy diagnosis and get more effective treatment. Screenings are designed to identify cancers or other conditions when they are most treatable and before they cause symptoms. Some screenings need to be scheduled annually while others need to be done once every 10 years, depending on your individual risk factors.

Eric D. Whitman, MD, system medical director of Atlantic Health System Cancer Care, walks through a range of screenings for both men and women, as well as how often they should be done.

“Even if you’re feeling great, early detection is your best weapon against cancer,” says Dr. Whitman. “When it comes to any type of cancer, the earlier you catch it, the more treatable the cancer will be.”

1. Colorectal Cancer

According to the American Cancer Society, colon cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in the United States. Dr. Whitman recommends you discuss your family history and any gastrointestinal symptoms you might be experiencing to determine your overall risk for developing colorectal cancer.

During a colorectal cancer screening, you can expect to have a colonoscopy, and sometimes blood or stool tests. Screening guidelines vary, but Dr. Whitman says that adults who have an average risk of developing colorectal cancer should begin regular screenings at age 50. Screenings are typically scheduled every 10 years, but your gastroenterologist might recommend a different screening interval if you have polyps, inflammatory bowel disease, other symptoms that need to be monitored more frequently or a family history of colon cancer.

2. Breast Cancer

As with many cancers, the risk for developing breast cancer increases with age. While the cancer is predominantly diagnosed in women, men are also at risk.

The American Cancer Society recommends that women with an average risk for developing breast cancer begin annual mammograms starting at age 45, with the option to begin at age 40. Women with dense breast tissue might also need a breast ultrasound or breast MRI, in addition to a yearly mammogram, as a part of their regular screening.

“Women with a family history of breast cancer or genetic mutations, such as BRCA 1 or 2, may need earlier or more frequent screening,” says Dr. Whitman.

3. Cervical Cancer

Most often caused the human papillomavirus (HPV), cervical cancer causes cellular changes that can be detected with a pap smear or HPV test. Women over the age of 21 should have a regular cervical cancer screening that includes a test for HPV. Depending on the type of test offered by your gynecologist, screening frequency ranges from three to five years.

Dr. Whitman notes that the HPV vaccine can help prevent infection by many of the cancer-causing strains of the virus. The vaccine is routinely given at the age of 11 or 12 but can be administered to young adults up to the age of 26.

4. Prostate Cancer

Prostate cancer develops most often in men over the age of 50. General guidelines recommend that men over 50 discuss with their physician the possible benefits of prostate cancer screening. Prostate cancer screening uses a blood test to measure a man’s prostate-specific antigen (PSA) and a digital rectal exam to manually detect prostate changes.

Because there are many reasons your PSA might be elevated, it’s important to talk with your doctor about your results. How often you need to have your PSA monitored will depend on your test results and your risk factors. Men have a higher risk of developing the disease if they are black, have a family history of prostate cancer or other risk factors, such as a diet high in animal fats.

5. Skin Cancer

An estimated 9,500 people are diagnosed with some form of skin cancer each day in the United States. Skin cancer falls into three categories: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma. Many forms of skin cancer can be prevented by using a broad-spectrum sunscreen, limiting your time in the sun and avoiding tanning beds or other sources of UV light.

“Early detection of skin cancer, particularly melanoma, is crucial,” says Dr. Whitman. “The risk of developing skin cancer is higher for people with fair skin, significant sun or tanning bed exposure or a family history of skin cancer. These people may need professional skin exams more frequently.”

Adults should schedule an appointment each year with a board-certified dermatologist for a full-body skin cancer screening. In addition, all adults should regularly examine their skin and see their doctor right away if they experience any changes such as new moles and lesions.

Dr. Whitman says to keep in mind the ABCDEs of melanoma when doing an at-home skin check:

  • Asymmetry
  • Border irregularity
  • Color variation
  • Diameter
  • Evolution or changes to existing moles

6. Lung Cancer

Designed to detect signs of lung cancer at an early and more treatable stage, screenings use low-dose computerized tomography (LDCT) to collect images of a person’s lungs. Lung cancer screening is generally recommended for older adults with a history of smoking, people with COPD or asbestos exposure.

“If you still smoke, now is the time to stop. It’s one of the best things you can do for your health,” says Dr. Whitman. “Reach out to your physician if you need help quitting. There are many smoking cessation tools available to help you kick the habit for good.”

Because lung cancer often doesn’t cause symptoms until the disease is at an advanced stage, LDCT screening can find cancer when it is smaller and more treatable.

“I encourage everyone to have an open and informed conversation with their medical provider to develop a personalized screening plan that best suits their unique needs and risk factors,” says Dr. Whitman. “Ultimately, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to cancer screening — it’s important to work with your doctor to craft a personalized screening plan based on your personal medical history, family history, risk factors and lifestyle.”

  • Cancer Care