Getting screened for cancer is a little like having an early warning system for severe weather. It gives you time to act before disaster strikes.
For certain types of cancer, doctors can use screening tests and exams to find the disease early—sometimes before it causes symptoms. That's when cancer may be easier to treat.
The only thing better than finding cancer early? Preventing it in the first place, which is what a few cancer screening tests can even help you do.
The answer to that question depends on a lot of factors. So it's important to ask your doctor which screenings may be right for you—and how often to have them.
The American Cancer Society guidelines below are for most adults at average risk. You might need other tests (or earlier or more frequent testing) based on your personal history, family history, race, gender identity or other factors. So consider this list as a jumping-off point for a conversation with your doctor.
Women 45 to 54 are encouraged to get a mammogram every year, although you can start at age 40 if you wish. At 55, you can start getting a mammogram every two years—or continue yearly screening if you choose. Continue screening as long as you're in good health and expected to live at least 10 more years.
Starting at age 21, talk to your doctor about getting a Pap test every three years. Once you turn 30, you can switch to having a Pap test plus the HPV (human papillomavirus) test every five years. If you're over 65 and have had normal test results for at least 10 years, ask your doctor if you can stop getting tested.
At age 45, start regular screenings for cancer of the colon and rectum. There are several testing options to choose from. Your doctor can help you figure out which is best for you. Most healthy adults should continue screening through age 75. After that, you can discuss with your doctor whether to continue. People over 85 no longer need colorectal cancer screening.
Are you between the ages of 55 and 74? Are you a current or former smoker (meaning you quit within the past 15 years)? And do you have a history of heavy smoking (such as a pack a day for 30 years or 2 packs a day for 15 years)? If so, consider getting a yearly low-dose CT scan to screen for lung cancer.
At age 50, men and their doctors should discuss the pros and cons of screening for prostate cancer. If you opt for the screening, your doctor will check the level of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) in your blood, a possible sign of prostate cancer. How often you're tested after that will depend on your results.