Health Secondary Story

Sue Ann Says Know the Guidelines for Cancer Screenings

Have you checked your calendar lately? Is it full of meetings, family birthdays and dinner with a close friend? Our calendars fill up fast these days as we try to manage our work lives along with our family responsibilities. Go back now and check it again. Have you written in your appointment for a mammogram? How about a screening for cervical cancer? Do you know the age you should first have a colonoscopy? I want to share with you recommendations on when these screenings and tests should take place in your life. Please remember that these are only guidelines and that the best person to tell you when to set up your screening is your own health professional. I will share two medical group’s recommendations with you, The American Cancer Society and The U.S. Preventative Services Taskforce (USPSTF).

Breast Cancer Screenings

The USPSTF recommends:

– Women under the age of 50 should make the decision to have biennial mammography
based on the individual’s own history and values in regards to the benefits and harms of
this screening.

– Women age 50-74 are encouraged to have biennial mammography.

The American Cancer Society recommends:

– A yearly mammogram beginning at the age of 40 and continuing if the woman is in good

– Women in their 20s and 30s have a clinical breast exam every 3 years.

– A 40 year old woman should have a clinical breast exam every year.

– Women in their 20s can use breast self-exams.

– Women with a family history or genetic risk for breast cancer may be screened with an MRI.

Colon Cancer Screenings

The USPSTF guidelines recommend:

– A colorectal cancer screening beginning at the age of 50 for adults and continuing until age 75. The screenings include fecal occult blood tests, a sigmoidoscopy or a colonoscopy.

The American Cancer Society guidelines state that women should be screened for polyps and cancer by having one of these tests:

– A flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5 years

– A colonoscopy every 10 years

– A double-contrast barium enema every 5 years

– A virtual colonoscopy every 5 years.

On top of those tests, they recommend a yearly fecal occult blood test or a yearly fecal immunochemical test. A stool DNA test can be done every 3 years. If any of these tests are positive, a colonoscopy is done. Again personal and family history can change this schedule, so discuss these tests with your doctor.

Cervical Cancer Screenings

The USPSTF endorses cervical cancer screenings at these ages:

– Women age 21-65 should have a Pap smear every 3 years.

– Women age 30-65 could lengthen the interval testing by using a combination of Pap smears and human papillomavirus (HPV) testing every 5 years.

The American Cancer Society recommends:

– Women under age 21 should not be tested.

– Women between ages 21 and 29 should have a Pap test done every 3 years.

– Women between the ages of 30 and 65 should have a Pap test and an HPV test done
every 5 years.

– Women over age 65 who have had regular screenings and normal test results should not
be tested for cervical cancer.

– Women with a history of a cervical pre-cancer should be tested with Pap smears for at
least 20 years after that diagnosis.

– Women who have had their uterus removed should not be tested.

– Women who were vaccinated against HPV should follow the screenings recommended
for their group.

Lung Cancer Screenings
We need to understand how many packs a person has smoked in order to make sense of the screenings. The American Cancer Society defines a pack-year as the number of cigarette packs smoked each day multiplied by the number of years a person has smoked. Someone who smoked a pack of cigarettes per day for 30 years has a 30 pack-year smoking history, as does someone who smoked 2 packs a day for 15 years.

The USPSTF recommends these lung cancer screenings:

– A woman from age 55-80 with a history of smoking for 30 pack-years can have a low
dose computed tomography every year.

– A woman who has quit in the last 15 years or who currently smokes can have a low dose
computed tomography annually.

– Once a woman has not smoked for 15 years screenings can be discontinued.

The American Cancer Society endorses these lung cancer screenings:

– There is no recommendation for people at average or low risk due to smoking.

– A woman between 55 and 74 years old, in good health and with a 30 pack-year of smoking and still smoking or a woman who quit smoking in the last 15 years may be screened with a low dose CT scan of the chest.
Live Healthy to Decrease Your Risk of Cancer
In order to help prevent various types of cancer, you need to choose to live a healthy lifestyle. This lifestyle should include maintaining a healthy weight, seeking out regular exercise, eating a healthy diet that includes a variety of fruits and vegetables, and quitting smoking. See your doctor on a regular basis to be proactive regarding your health.

Pencil in Those Appointments and Keep Them!

Remember that the screening lists in this article are guidelines. Your physician can inform you of the years you need to be screened. Talk to your physician to set any up any screening appointments and don’t miss them!

Because it all beings with a healthy woman…

Sue Ann Thompson is founder and president of the Wisconsin Women’s Health Foundation (WWHF), a statewide non-profit organization whose mission is to help Wisconsin women and their families reach their healthiest potential. WWHF provides programs and conducts forums that focus on education, prevention, and early detection; connects individuals to health resources; produces and distributes the most up-to-date health education and resource materials; and, awards grants and scholarships to women health researchers and related community non-profits. To learn more, visit or call 1-800-448-5148.

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