Although cancer can be deadly, it doesn’t always become symptomatic until it’s too late.
That’s why public health officials say cancer screening tests are so important. They can be used to find cancer in people who have no symptoms — as early as possible before it has spread.
Knowing which screenings you should get when, however, can be challenging, especially since recommendations vary based on age and gender.
Here’s what you should get screened for and when, according to the most recent set of cancer screening guidelines set by the American Cancer Society.
Though most men do not need to be tested for colon cancer in this age rage, the American Cancer Society recommends those who are at a higher than average risk to talk to a healthcare provider about when testing is appropriate. Family history and genetic disorders, for example, can increase a person’s risk for colon cancer at an earlier age.
In this age range, women should begin getting to know how their breasts look and feel, and report any changes to a healthcare provider immediately, according to the ACS. Though cancer screenings in general are not needed in this age group, if a woman is at a higher-than-average risk for breast cancer, a healthcare provider may initiate mammograms or other screening tests.
While no testing is recommended for women before the age 21 for cervical cancer, beginning at this age, the ACS recommends a pap test done every three years through age 29. HPV tests should not be done unless a pap test is abnormal.
For colon cancer, testing is only needed if a person has an increased risk because of family history, genetic disorders or other similar factors, according to the organization.
Like men in their 20s, those in their 30s do not need to be tested for colon cancer unless they are at a greater risk because of family history, according to the American Cancer Society.
It’s a similar story for women and breast cancer. The organization recommends women monitor their breasts, but mammograms and other screening tests are only needed if there is a concern about increased risk or a self-test that indicates there may be a problem.
Starting at age 30, women at average risk for cervical cancer should get a pap test and HPV test every five years, or only a pap test every three years.
Women who are at a higher-than-average risk for colon cancer should talk to their physicians, but if not at increased risk, testing is not needed in this age group.
Similar to younger age groups, screenings for colon cancer in men, as well as women, are not needed in this age range unless they are at a higher-than-average risk.
With prostate cancer screening, however, starting at age 45, men at higher-than-average risks of prostate cancer should begin talking with their physicians about the potential benefits of testing. Those at higher risk include African-American men and men with close family members who has prostate cancer before the age of 65.
According to the American Cancer Society, men with more than one close relative, such as a brother or father, who was diagnosed with prostate cancer before the age of 65 are at an even higher risk of developing it. These men should speak with a doctor about beginning testing as early as age 40.
Beginning at age 40 through 44, women can begin discussing having a mammogram with their physicians for early detection of breast cancer, and the pros and cons of doing so. At age 45, women should get mammograms every year.
Women in this age group should also get a pap test and an HPV test done every five years or only a pap test every three years to detect cervical cancer.
All men and women at average risk for colon cancer should start testing at age 50, according to the American Cancer Society.
Men in this age group also should talk with a healthcare provider about the risks and benefits of testing for prostate cancer.
Men and women who are older than 55 should speak with a healthcare provider about their smoking history and whether they should get yearly low-dose CT scans to screen for early lung cancer.
Women ages 50 to 54 should get mammograms every year to detect breast cancer, and beginning at age 55, can switch to getting one every two years.
The American Cancer Society also recommends getting a pap test and HPV test every five years to detect cervical cancer, or a pap test alone every three years.
Age 65 and older
Colon cancer testing is recommended for men and women 65 years and older.
Men who can expect to live at least 10 more years should talk with a healthcare provider about the risks and potential benefits of prostate cancer screening.
Men and women with a smoking history should talk to a healthcare provider about getting an annual low-dose CT scan to screen for early lung cancer.
Every two years, women in this age group should get a mammogram for detection of breast cancer.
However, in this age range, testing for cervical cancer is no longer needed if a woman has had regular cervical cancer testing with normal results for the previous 10 years.