In this month’s blog, Dr. Heather Thompson Mackey, DNP, ANP-BC, AOCN®, Senior Director, Cancer Prevention and Early Detections shares how cancer screenings can lead to healthier outcomes and better chances of survival. Read on below.
This year, nearly two million people in the U.S. will be diagnosed with cancer. While this number is alarming, the good news is that cancer prevention and early detection can save lives. For Amanda’s family, that number is personal, as both her dad and uncle were diagnosed with melanoma (a disease that is more common in men than women). Now, Amanda—and the rest of her family—are doing their best to make sure that they never have to hear that diagnosis again.
When Amanda’s dad and his siblings were growing up, they spent their summers competing on swim teams and working as lifeguards. They were outside every day, but sun safety generally wasn’t their top priority. Fast forward to 2005 when Amanda’s grandmother noticed a suspicious spot on her son (Amanda’s uncle) and encouraged him to have it checked out. After seeing his doctor, he learned it was melanoma. Thanks to the incredible work of his doctors, all the cancer was removed even though it had already begun to spread.
"Cancer screenings are not ‘one size fits all’—your age, sex assigned at birth, personal and family medical history, and lifestyle may impact when and how often you should be screened."
Skin checks are just one of the routine ways you can detect cancer early. Routine cancer screenings and checks are also available for breast, colorectal, oral, cervical, lung, prostate and testicular cancers.¹
Cancer screenings are not ‘one size fits all’—your age, sex assigned at birth, personal and family medical history, and lifestyle may impact when and how often you should be screened. The best way to check your health and find out what screenings are recommended for you is to visit your health care provider and refer to helpful resources, such as Prevent Cancer Foundation’s age-based screening quiz.
Most people don’t have signs or symptoms of cancer until the disease is in advanced stages, and according to the Prevent Cancer Foundation’s 2023 Early Detection Survey, that lack of symptoms is one of the top reasons people aren’t getting their routine cancer screenings. Routine screenings can detect cancer early, which can lead to better outcomes, less extensive treatment and better chances of survival. The five-year survival rate for many cancers is at least 90% when cancer is found in its early stages.²
Don’t know where to start? Here are the basics:
Breast cancer screening
Beginning at age 25, talk with your health care provider at least once every three years for a risk assessment, risk reduction counseling and a clinical breast exam. If you are at average risk, begin annual 2D or 3D screening mammograms at age 40. Talk to your health care provider about which mammogram is recommended for you. When you reach menopause, talk to your provider about potential risks associated with hormone replacement therapy.
Cervical cancer screening
Cervical cancer screening is recommended beginning at age 21 with a Pap test every three years. Between the ages of 30 to 65, you should have a Pap test alone every 3 years, a human papillomavirus (HPV) test alone every five years, or an HPV test with a Pap test (co-testing) every five years. After age 65, talk with your provider about whether you should continue screening. You should get screened even if you received the HPV vaccine, which protects against the virus that causes most (but not all) cervical cancer cases. The vaccine is recommended for young people ages 9-12 with a catch-up vaccine recommended for teens and young adults up to age 26.
Colorectal cancer screening
Begin colorectal cancer screening at age 45 if you are at average risk. Options for screening include a colonoscopy every 10 years, virtual colonoscopy or flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years, and at-home stool tests every one to three years. Screening should continue until at least age 75, then talk to your provider about whether you should continue. Colorectal cancer screening with colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy can find polyps, or growths, that can be removed before they become cancer.
Lung cancer screening
If you’re a heavy smoker or a former heavy smoker, you are at high risk and should get screened for lung cancer starting at age 50. The United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends annual screening until age 80 for people who have 20 pack-year histories (the equivalent of smoking one pack per day for 20 years) of smoking and who either still smoke or have quit within the past 15 years. Screening with low-dose spiral CT significantly reduces lung cancer deaths, so talk to your health care provider about screening if you think you may be eligible.
In addition to learning the general screening guidelines, knowing your family health history is vital since that can also play a role in determining when and how often you should be screened for certain cancers, such as breast, colorectal and prostate cancers. To find out what screenings you need, visit www.preventcancer.org/screening and then talk to your health care provider.
 The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, which most insurance companies use to determine coverage of preventive screenings, recommends routine breast, cervical, colorectal and lung cancer screenings for certain populations. While they do not include routine screenings for oral, prostate, skin or testicular cancer in their recommendations, the Prevent Cancer Foundation encourages people to talk to their health care providers about including these examinations as part of their routine medical care.
 Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program (www.seer.cancer.gov) SEER*Stat Database: Incidence – SEER 17 Regs Research Data + Hurricane Katrina Impacted Louisiana Cases, Nov 2021 Sub (2000-2019), National Cancer Institute, DCCPS, Surveillance Research Program, Surveillance Systems Branch, released April 2022, based on the November 2021 submission.