If prevention is the best medicine for good health, then early detection is a close second. Modern medicine allows us to catch many cancers and other health conditions in their earliest and most treatable stages through routine screening.
Below is a summary of cancer screening guidelines put forth by the most respected organizations in the healthcare industry. However, women should consult with their primary care provider about any health issues, family history and other risk factors that could require a higher level of screening for specific conditions.
Pap Smear: Age 21-65
Test: A swab is used to gather cervical cells to check for cell changes that can turn into cervical cancer if not treated. The same test can be used to check for human papillomavirus (HPV), an infection that is sexually transmitted and can lead to cervical cancer.
Frequency: A pap test is recommended every 3 years for women age 21-65. If you are aged 30-65 and want to be screened less often, it is recommended that you have the Pap test along with the HPV test every 5 years. Women 65 or older may be able to stop having Pap and HPV tests if your Pap smears have been negative in the past and you do not have any other risk factors for cervical cancer.
Mammogram: Age 40 and up
Test: Radiologic imaging of each breast monitors any changes in breast tissue that may indicate cancer.
Frequency: The American College of Radiology and National Comprehensive Cancer Network recommend women at average risk get yearly mammograms beginning at age 40.
Colonoscopy: Age 50-75
Test: A scope is used to examine the lining of the colon to detect any precancerous cell clusters.
Frequency: Beginning at 50, women at average risk should begin having colonoscopies every 10 years (earlier if you have a family history of colon cancer).
Skin check: Almost any age
Test: A dermatologist examines your skin for suspicious moles or growths and monitors any changes. The physician will also assess your risk of skin cancer based on previous sun exposure, type of skin, and hereditary factors.
Frequency: There are no formal age screening guidelines, however, individuals with fair and/or freckled skin or who have a history of sunburns may be at greater risk of developing skin cancer. Regular self-checks are recommended.