Cancer Screening Tests All Women Need

Medically Reviewed by Dr. K on 5 May 2021

What is Cancer Screening?

Cancer screening tests are designed to detect cancer early, before it causes symptoms and when it is most manageable to treat. Screening tests that are effective include those that:

  • Find cancer early
  • Reduce the likelihood of cancer mortality in anyone who is routinely screened.
  • Have seen a greater number of possible advantages than drawbacks.

Cancer screening is so important because there are no symptoms of cancer in the early stages, and it is exactly when the cancer is most treatable. When creating your health to-do list for this year, consult your doctor to determine which cancer tests you should get.

Breast Cancer

A screening test can often detect this form of cancer when a lump is too small for you to feel and the disease hasn't spread to other areas of the body.

Mammogram: This is the most common way for doctors to detect breast cancer. It creates images of the inside of your breasts using X-rays.

A 3D mammogram consists of many images that allow your doctor to see your breast from various angles.

One breast at a time will be placed on a special platform by a technician. Then a transparent plastic paddle will be used to spread the breasts out. This is done to ensure that the X-ray captures all of the tissue. You may need to shift positions so that the technician can take photos from various angles. For a few seconds, you'll have to hold your breath.

Mammograms can also detect conditions that are not cancer, preventing women from undergoing further testing or even medication that they don't need. One of the reasons why different organizations have different recommendations is because of this.

  • Women between the ages of 50 and 74 should have mammograms every other year, according to the US Preventive Services Task Force. Women in their forties may opt for one every two years.
  • Women between the ages of 45 and 54 should have it done once a year, according to the American Cancer Society, but you can start as early as 40 if you like. They should be given to people over the age of 55 every 1-2 years.

Consult your doctor if you have a higher risk of breast cancer due to family history or other factors. You may need mammograms earlier and more often than these recommendations suggest. Other screening tests, such as an MRI, may be needed.

Breast self-exams: Women are no longer advised to do these by most health organizations. If you want to get to know your breasts better, speak to your doctor about what you should look for and feel for.

Lung Cancer

it is no secret that smoking is a huge contributing factor. If you smoke frequently, speak with your doctor about having a screening test if you haven't already.

Low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) scan: A low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) scan is used to screen for lung cancer. It takes pictures of the lungs with X-rays.

It's a simple method. As the table goes through the detector, you lie on your back and lift your arms above your head. As this is happening, you hold your breath for 5 to 10 seconds.

If you do the following, you can get an LDCT scan at least once a year:

  • According to the USPSTF, they range in age from 50 to 80 years old.
  • Have smoked one pack of cigarettes per day for the past 20 years (or an equivalent number, such as two packs per day for the past ten years), and
  • Whether you're a smoker right now, or if you've stopped in the last 15 years,

If and when it's time to stop having annual scans, your doctor will let you know.

Colorectal Cancer

In women, it's the third most common cancer. Some screening tests check for polyps in your colon, which is a part of your digestive system, and this is where the disease normally begins. The aim is to locate them before they develop into cancer or when they are still in the early stages of development.

Colonoscopy: A flexible tube with a camera on the end will be used by your doctor to examine the whole colon and rectum. You'll need to do some planning ahead of time. You'll only be able to drink liquids for a day or two before the procedure, and you'll take a laxative to flush out your colon.

The treatment is painless and takes about 30 minutes. You'll be given numbing medication as well as drowsy or sleep-inducing drugs. Polyps and possibly tissue fragments will normally be removed from your colon by your doctor. They'll then give them to a lab to be tested for cancer signs.

Flexible sigmoidoscopy: It's similar to a colonoscopy, but it's not as extensive. Just about a third of your colon can be examined by your doctor. On the plus side, you don't need to prepare as much and can normally stay awake. It takes about 20 minutes to complete this exam.

Fecal tests: Since cancers in the colon and rectum may bleed, both the guaiac-based faecal occult blood test (gFOBT) and the faecal immunochemical test (FIT) check for tiny quantities of blood in your faeces. You use a special kit that allows you to catch a small amount of your faeces from the comfort of your own home. You give the kit to a lab, where the samples are examined by technicians. You will need to abstain from certain foods and medications ahead of time.

Stool DNA test: A stool DNA test is similar to a fecal test, except the lab will look for signs of cells from polyps or cancer that have had their genes altered.

When you reach the age of 50, you should have your first colorectal cancer screening. If you're at a higher risk for colorectal cancer, you might need to start sooner. If you're older, consult your doctor to see if it's necessary.

The frequency at which you should be screened after that is determined by the type of screening you get. The USPSTF advises:

Colonoscopy every ten years, or
Flexible sigmoidoscopy every 10 years, plus FIT every year (the American College of Physicians recommends flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5 years, plus FOBT or FIT every 3 years), or flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5 years, plus FOBT or FIT every 3 years, or
FOBT is held every year.

Cervical Cancer

It begins in the cells that line your cervix, the lower portion of your uterus. Your doctor will also detect these slowly changing cells using one of these tests until they cause problems.

Pap test: You need to lie on a table with your feet in leg rests. In order for the doctor to see your cervix, a speculum is inserted into your vagina.

They'll then scrape or brush a sample of cells away with a special scraper or brush. It's likely that you'll be uncomfortable. The cells are sent to a laboratory where they are examined for cancer.

Human papillomavirus (HPV) test: It can be performed at the same time as the Pap smear test and with the same cells collected. The lab examines you to see if you've been infected with HPV, the virus that causes the majority of cervical cancer cases.

Women should get a Pap smear test every three years starting at the age of 21. Some people will be able to get a Pap and HPV test every 5 years starting at the age of 30. Based on factors such as your age, test history, and risk of developing cancer, your doctor will prescribe the best course of action for you.

Skin Cancer

The USPSTF has no recommendations for or against skin tests, although the American Cancer Society claims that routine doctor visits are a safe way to detect skin cancers early. Ask your doctor how often you can have a skin check if you've had the disease before or if you have family members that have.

Your doctor will examine your skin for any suspicious moles or other growths that may be cancerous. At least once a month, you can check your skin for changes.


Referenced on 4/5/2021

  1. American Association for Clinical Chemistry: “HPV Test."
  2. American Cancer Society: “American Cancer Society recommendations for early breast cancer detection in women without breast symptoms," “Colorectal Cancer Screening Tests," “Frequently Asked Questions About Colonoscopy and Sigmoidoscopy," “Key Statistics for Colorectal Cancer," “Skin Cancer Prevention and Early Detection."
  3. American Lung Association: “Lung Cancer Fact Sheet."
  4. Radiological Society of North America: “Lung Cancer Screening," “Mammography."
  5. U.S. Preventive Services Task Force: “Breast Cancer: Screening," “Draft Recommendation Statement. Colorectal Cancer: Screening," “Final Recommendations," “Lung Cancer: Screening," “Skin Cancer: Screening."

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