Screening Guidelines

Regular cancer screenings should be a part of every adults' health routine. When you receive a cancer screening, your health care provider will be looking for cancer at any early stage before you have symptoms. Your provider does not necessarily think you have cancer, but if abnormal tissue or cancer is found early, it may be easier to treat or cure.

Screening tests can include:

  • A physical exam of your body to check for signs of disease, lumps or anything else unusual
  • Taking a history of the your health habits and past illnesses and treatments
  • Laboratory tests of tissue, blood, urine, or other substances in your body
  • Imaging procedures
  • Genetic tests that look for gene mutations linked to cancer

The following cancer types can be checked by your health care provider before symptoms appear:

  • Breast cancer
  • Cervical cancer
  • Colorectal cancer
  • Lung cancer
  • Prostate cancer
  • Skin cancer

See below for more information about the different types of cancer screenings.

Breast Cancer Screenings

Regular breast check-ups are the best ways to detect breast cancer early. Early detection provides you with an increased chance of recovery and a wider range of treatment options.

According to the American Cancer Society, there are several things that women of all ages can do to promote their own breast health:

In your 20s & 30s:

  • Clinical breast exam during your routine health exam every three years at a minimum
  • Regular breast self examination - become familiar with your own breasts and report any abnormalities immediately to your health care provider

In your 40s or older:

  • Yearly screening mammogram
  • Yearly clinical breast exam

High-Risk Individuals (greater than 20%):

  • Yearly MRI
  • Yearly screening mammogram

Moderate-Risk Individuals (15% -20%)

  • Yearly screening mammogram
  • Yearly MRI is optional; discuss the benefits with your health care provider

Make an appointment with the Vanderbilt Breast Center to schedule your mammogram.

Cervical Cancer Screenings

  • The human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine is recommended for girls and women between the ages of 9 and 26. If you are between these ages, or if you have a daughter who is between these ages, talk to your doctor or pediatrician about the HPV vaccine.
  • All women should begin regular Pap tests by age 21 or within three years after onset of vaginal intercourse.
  • Regular Pap tests should be done yearly; the newer liquid-based Pap test, every two years.
  • Beginning at age 30, women who do not have certain risk factors such as a weakened immune system or DES exposure before birth and who have had three normal Pap test results in a row may be screened every two to three years.
  • Women over 30 may also consider a Pap test plus the DNA test for infection with the human papilloma virus (HPV) every three years.
  • Women over 70 who have had three normal Pap tests in a row and no abnormal Pap tests in the past 10 years may choose to stop having screening.
  • Women with a history of cervical cancer or certain risk factors should continue screening.

Make an appointment with the Vanderbilt Center for Women's Health to schedule your Pap test.

Colorectal Cancer Screenings

Beginning at age 50, men and women of average risk should begin the following:

  • Yearly fecal occult blood test (FOBT) or fecal immunochemical test (FIT), flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years or a combination of annual FOBT or FIT with sigmoidoscopy every five years (preferred over ether alone)
  • Double-contrast barium enema every five years
  • Colonoscopy every 10 years

Any positive test should be followed up with a colonoscopy. Discuss beginning earlier screening if you have a personal history of colorectal cancer or polyps, a strong family history of either, a personal history of chronic inflammatory bowel disease or a family history of a hereditary colorectal cancer syndrome.

Make an appointment with the Vanderbilt Digestive Disease Center to schedule your colonoscopy.

Lung Cancer Screenings

Lung cancer screening for high-risk individuals can lower the risk of death from lung cancer by 20 percent. Those at high risk for lung cancer include:

  • Women and men age 55 to 77
  • Current or former smokers with 30 or more pack years who have smoked in the past 15 years

Lung cancer screening is an imaging procedure that uses low-dose CT (x-ray computed tomography). The screening takes less than five minutes and does not require special preparation.

Make an appointment with the Lung Screening Program to schedule your lung cancer screening.

Prostate Cancer Screenings

  • Digital rectal examination and prostate-specific antigen (PSA) testing should be offered annually beginning at age 50 (or 45 for men at increased risk including African Americans and men with a strong family history of prostate cancer).
  • Information about what is known and what is uncertain about the benefits and limitations of early detection and treatment of prostate cancer should be discussed so men may make an informed decision about screening.

Make an appointment with Vanderbilt Urology to schedule your prostate exam.

Skin Cancer Screenings

  • As part of a routine cancer-related checkup, your health care professional should check your skin carefully and discuss any concerns you may have.
  • It's also important to check your own skin, preferably once a month.
  • Learn the pattern of moles, blemishes, freckles, and other marks on your skin so that you'll notice any changes. Any trouble spots should be seen by a doctor.

For melanoma, the most serious form, the "ABCD" rule is an easy guide:

  • A is for ASYMMETRY: One half of a mole or birthmark does not match the other.
  • B is for BORDER: The edges are irregular, ragged, notched, or blurred.
  • C is for COLOR: The color is not the same all over and may include shades of brown or black, sometimes with patches of red, white, or blue.
  • D is for DIAMETER: The spot is larger than 6 millimeters across (about the size of a pencil eraser) or is growing larger.

Other important signs of melanoma include changes in size, shape, or color of a mole or the appearance of a new spot. Some melanomas do not fit the ABCD rule described above, so it is particularly important for you to notice changes in skin markings or new spots on your skin.

Make an appointment with Vanderbilt Dermatology for your skin cancer screening.

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