Cancer screening guidelines

Published Oct 5, 2017 at 12:00pm

Early detection of cancer greatly increases a person’s odds of surviving this potentially deadly disease. Screening can range from relatively simple self-examinations to more complicated procedures conducted by physicians. The following are the widely accepted screening guidelines, courtesy of the American Cancer Society.

Breast cancer

Women should begin self-examinations of their breasts starting in their 20s. This helps women familiarize themselves with their breasts early on, which makes it easier to detect any abnormalities, including lumps, later in life. 

In addition to breast self-exams, women should receive clinical breast exams, or CBEs, every three years while in their 20s and 30s, and then an annual CBE starting at age 40. The ACS also recommends women begin receiving annual mammograms starting at age 40. Some doctors may also recommend women with a family history of breast cancer or other significant risk factors receive an MRI in addition to a mammogram. These additional tests are rarely necessary, but women at a higher risk of breast cancer should discuss their options with their physicians.

Colorectal cancer and polyps

Men and women should begin screening for colorectal cancer and polyps beginning at age 50. Polyps are growths on the inner surface of the colon that are often noncancerous, but some can develop into cancer.

Some tests may be conducted to find both polyps and cancer, and these tests should be conducted at various intervals. Beginning at age 50, men and women should get a flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years, a colonoscopy every 10 years, a double-contrast barium enema every five years, or a CT colonography, also known as a virtual colonoscopy, every five years. When tests other than a colonoscopy are positive, then a colonoscopy should be conducted as well.

Testing can also be conducted to detect colorectal cancer. Beginning at age 50, men and women should receive an annual fecal occult blood test or a yearly fecal immunochemical test. When results are positive, a colonoscopy should be conducted.

Lung cancer

Despite the prevalence of lung cancer, the ACS advises against screenings for lung cancer in people whose risk for developing the disease is average. But the ACS does recommend screenings for those individuals who are at high risk for the disease. These include men and women who meet all of the following criteria:

• 55 to 74 years of age

• in fairly good health

• have at least a 30 pack-year smoking history and are either still smoking or have quit smoking within the last 15 years

More information about lung cancer screening is available at

Endometrial (uterine) cancer

According to the ACS, at the time of menopause all women should discuss the risks and symptoms of endometrial cancer, often referred to as uterine cancer. Detection often begins with women themselves, who should report any bleeding or spotting to their physicians immediately upon detection.

More information on cancer screenings is available at