Which Cancer Screenings Should I Get?

“It’s a good idea to discuss the latest recommendations for cancer screenings with your primary-care doctor during your annual visit,” says Rebecca B. Newman, MD, Medical Director of the Adult Primary Care Center at Westchester Medical Center, the flagship of the Westchester Medical Center Health Network (WMCHealth).

Breast: Women should begin annual mammograms at 40, earlier if risk factors
are present. Go to the same imaging center each year (transfer your records if needed) for comparisons with previous tests.

Cervical: Starting at age 21, get an annual gynecological exam to check for infections and skin cancers, and get a pap smear, to screen for cervical cancer every three years. At age 30 and beyond, pap smears may decrease to every five years for a woman who receives both HPV tests and pap smears. At ages 65 to 75, pap smears may be stopped, or the frequency may be decreased, depending upon test results.

Colon: Starting at age 50, everyone should get a colonoscopy every 10 years or more frequently as recommended by your primary care doctor or GI specialist; alternative screening is an annual fecal occult blood test.

Lungs: A low-dose CAT scan is recommended for smokers and former smokers; frequency depends upon how much they’ve smoked and when they quit.
Prostate: Blood tests (PSA) or digital rectal exam (DRE) identify enlargement, nodules and blood in stool, but the pros and cons of testing should be discussed with your doctor. Men ages 55 to 69 should make an individualized decision about prostate cancer screening with their clinician.

Ovarian: Not recommended unless symptomatic or high risk.

Skin: Annual body checks by your primary-care physician or dermatologist are recommended. Risk factors include lighter skin, family history, levels of sun exposure, history of sunburns and indoor tanning, light hair and eye color, and freckles or skin that reddens easily.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has a free app to search recommendations by age, gender and selected risks. Learn more at uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org.