Cancer Screenings and When to Get Them

Understand what important cancer screenings you need and when to get them

‘Tis the season of trying to stick to those New Year’s resolutions we all made in January. For many people this means making healthy changes – from exercising more to eating better. As you strive to keep your resolutions and live a healthier lifestyle, I’d like to take this opportunity to educate you about another important health-related goal – cancer prevention.

Cancer has numerous causes, many of them still unknown. What we do know is that lifestyle plays a major role in its development. According to 2016 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association of Oncology, lifestyle changes would decrease cancer deaths by 67 percent for men and 59 percent for women. Talk with your doctor about the positive changes you can make to reduce your risk for cancer such as diet, exercise, losing weight or quitting smoking.

In addition to making healthy lifestyle changes, it is important that you take proactive steps to prevent health issues. This includes getting recommended cancer screenings. Many cancers are highly treatable when diagnosed at an early stage. As you talk with your doctor about a healthy lifestyle, also ask about the cancer screenings that are appropriate for you.

Recommended cancer screening tests:

The following screening guidelines are recommended for individuals who do not have an elevated risk of cancer due to a personal or family history, environmental exposures, a weakened immune system or other factors.


Breast cancer

Breast cancer death rates have been declining since 1989 in the U.S., in part, due to early detection by mammography screening and treatment. Early detection of breast cancer by mammography also leads to a greater range of less invasive treatment options.

Recommended screening:

Mammograms are recommended based on risk. Women ages 50 and older should get a mammogram every one to two years. This is based on family history of breast cancer and risk for developing the disease following a baseline mammogram at age 40.


Cervical cancer

Cervical cancer incidence and mortality rates have decreased by more than 50 percent over the past three decades, which is attributed mostly to screening with the Pap test. For women in whom precancerous lesions are found, the likelihood of survival is nearly 100 percent with appropriate evaluation, treatment and follow-up.

Recommended screening:

Pap test performed once every three to five years (for women).

Skin cancer

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the U.S. The good news is, you don’t need x-rays or blood tests to find skin cancer early – just your eyes and a mirror. Finding it early is the best way to make sure it can be successfully treated.

Recommended screening:

Head-to-toe skin check, performed annually.


Prostate cancer

Prostate cancer is the most common type of cancer (other than skin cancer) and the third-leading cause of cancer death among U.S. men. Mortality rates for prostate cancer have been declining, which is thought to be due to improvements in treatment and management of recurrent disease.

Recommended screening:

Your doctor will recommend screening options for prostate cancer – digital rectal exam and prostate specific antigen (PSA) blood test – depending on family history of the disease and risk for developing the cancer. For example, African American men are more likely to develop prostate cancer than men of other ethnicities.


Colorectal cancer

The number of colorectal cancer cases has declined over the past decade. Experts think the decrease is due primarily to early screening efforts. Even with increased screenings, only 39 percent of cases are diagnosed at the localized stage, for which the five-year survival rate is 90 percent.

Recommended screening:

Colonoscopy or high-sensitivity blood test performed every 10 years beginning at age 50.


In addition to these screening recommendations, your doctor may recommend incorporating cancer-related checkups into your routine health examinations. These checkups may include health counseling and, depending on an individual’s age and gender, exams for cancers of the thyroid, oral cavity, skin, lymph nodes, testes and ovaries.


  • Patricia Dietzgen, D.O., is a family medicine physician practicing at the Kaiser Permanente Frisco medical offices