One of the most important parts of cancer prevention is receiving regular screenings. These tests take steps to identify this tragic disease in its pre-cancerous state or early stages. Multiple organizations have developed guidelines for the forms of cancer screening that women should undergo. While the specifics may vary from organization to organization, the theme remains the same. Regular screenings for cervical, breast, and colorectal cancers should begin in the late teens to early twenties and continue throughout their lives.
When Should I Begin Cancer Screening?
The specific time when you should begin being screened regularly for cancer is determined by the specifics of your medical history and family history with cancer. When you begin will also be determined by the type of cancer being screened for. Meeting with your physician and going over your medical history is the only way to be certain when the best time is for you to begin your cancer screening.
Breast Cancer Screening
Women who have reached 40 years of age should speak to their physician about getting regular breast cancer screening, with those between the ages of 45-54 getting screened annually. After this point it’s typical for screenings to be rolled back to once every two years, rate that will continue for as long as you’re in good health. Your physician may recommend that you begin being screened earlier than this if:
- You carry the BRCA-1 or 2 mutation, or have an immediate relative that does.
- Have a family history of breast cancer
- You or a relative have Bannayan-Riley-Ruvalcaba, Cowden, or Li-Fraumeni syndromes.
Cervical Cancer Screening
Screening for cervical cancer generally begins at the age of 21, with the specific method used being determined by age. Cervical cancer is commonly caused by a virus known as HPV, or the Human Papillomavirus. Common methods used to screen for cervical cancer include:
- Age 21-29 – Pap smears every 3 years with HPV testing after abnormal results.
- Age 30-65 – Pap smears every 5 years with an HPV test, or just a pap smear every 3 years.
- Over 65 – If tested regularly over the past 10 years for cervical cancer no further testing is needed. Those who have shown signs of pre-cancerous conditions should continue being tested for 20 years.
Women who have had their cervix removed for reasons unrelated to cervical cancer, and who have no previous indicators of cervical cancer no longer need to be tested. Women who have received the HPV vaccination should continue to receive pap smears as indicated above.