Early Detection Saves Lives
When it comes to cancer, early detection is key to winning the fight. Read through the information below to find out which screenings you need based on your age, gender and lifestyle. Be sure to talk with your primary care provider if you have any questions or concerns.
Breast Cancer Screenings
Breast Cancer Screening Recommendations
The U.S. Preventive Service Task Force recommends that women who are 50 to 74 years old and are at average risk for breast cancer get a mammogram every two years.
Women ages 40 to 49 should talk to their doctor or other health care professional about when to start and how often to get a mammogram. Women should weigh the benefits and risks of screening tests when deciding whether to begin getting mammograms at age 40.
Breast Cancer Screening Tests
A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast. Mammograms are the best way to find breast cancer early, when it is easier to treat and before it is big enough to feel or cause symptoms. Having regular mammograms can lower the risk of dying from breast cancer.
Breast Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
A breast MRI uses magnets and radio waves to take pictures of the breast. MRI is used along with mammograms to screen women who are at high risk for getting breast cancer. Because breast MRIs may appear abnormal even when there is no cancer, it is not used for women at average risk.
Breast Cancer Risk Factors
Some women will get breast cancer even if they don’t have known risk factors. Having a risk factor does not mean you will get the disease, and not all risk factors have the same effect. Most women have some risk factors, but still do not get breast cancer. If you have breast cancer risk factors, talk with your doctor about ways you can lower your risk and about screening for breast cancer.
- Getting older. The risk for breast cancer increases with age; most breast cancers are diagnosed after age 50.
- Genetic mutations. Inherited changes (mutations) to certain genes, such as BRCA1 and BRCA2 increase risk. Women who have inherited these genetic changes are at higher risk of breast and ovarian cancer.
- Early menstrual period. Women who start their periods before age 12 are exposed to hormones longer, raising the risk for breast cancer by a small amount.
- Late or no pregnancy. Having the first pregnancy after age 30 and never having a full-term pregnancy can raise breast cancer risk.
- Starting menopause after age 55. Like starting one’s period early, being exposed to estrogen hormones for a longer time later in life also raises the risk of breast cancer.
- Not being physically active. Women who are not physically active have a higher risk of getting breast cancer.
- Being overweight or obese after menopause. Older women who are overweight or obese have a higher risk of getting breast cancer than those at a normal weight.
- Having dense breasts. Dense breasts have more connective tissue than fatty tissue, which can sometimes make it hard to see tumors on a mammogram. Women with dense breasts are more likely to get breast cancer.
- Using combination hormone therapy. Taking hormones to replace missing estrogen and progesterone in menopause for more than five years raises the risk for breast cancer. The hormones that have been shown to increase risk are estrogen and progestin when taken together.
- Taking oral contraceptives (birth control pills). Certain forms of oral contraceptive pills have been found to raise breast cancer risk.
- Personal history of breast cancer. Women who have had breast cancer are more likely to get breast cancer a second time.
- Personal history of certain non-cancerous breast diseases. Some non-cancerous breast diseases such as atypical hyperplasia or lobular carcinoma in situ are associated with a higher risk of getting breast cancer.
- Family history of breast cancer. A woman’s risk for breast cancer is higher if she has a mother, sister or daughter (first-degree relative) or multiple family members on either her mother’s or father’s side of the family who have had breast cancer. Having a first-degree male relative with breast cancer also raises a woman’s risk.
- Previous treatment using radiation therapy. Women who had radiation therapy to the chest or breasts (like for treatment of Hodgkin’s lymphoma) before age 30 have a higher risk of getting breast cancer later in life.
- Women who took the drug diethylstilbestrol (DES). Given to some pregnant women in the United States between 1940 and 1971 to prevent miscarriage, have a higher risk. Women whose mothers took DES while pregnant with them are also at risk.
- Drinking alcohol. Studies show that a woman’s risk for breast cancer increases with the more alcohol she drinks.
Lung Cancer Screenings
Lung Cancer Screening Recommendations
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends yearly lung cancer screening for people who:
- Have a history of heavy smoking and
- Smoke now or have quit within the past 15 years and
- Are between 55 and 77 years old.
Heavy smoking means a smoking history of 30 pack years or more. A pack year is smoking an average of one pack of cigarettes per day for one year. For example, a person could have a 30 pack-year history by smoking one pack a day for 30 years or two packs a day for 15 years.
Lung Cancer Screening
The only recommended screening test for lung cancer is low-dose computed tomography (also called a low-dose CT scan or LDCT). In this test, an X-ray machine scans the body and uses low doses of radiation to make detailed pictures of the lungs.
Lung Cancer Risk Factors
- Secondhand smoke
- Other substances
- Personal or family history of lung cancer
- Radiation therapy to the chest
Colon Cancer Screenings
Colorectal Cancer Screening Guidelines
Regular screening, beginning at age 50, is the key to preventing colorectal cancer. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends screening for colorectal cancer using high-sensitivity fecal occult blood testing, sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy beginning at age 50 years and continuing until age 75 years.
People at higher risk of developing colorectal cancer should begin screening at a younger age and may need to be tested more frequently. The decision to be screened after age 75 should be made on an individual basis. If you are older than 75, ask your doctor if you should be screened.
Recommended Screening Tests and Intervals
Colonoscopy, during which the physician uses a flexible, lighted tube (colonoscope) to look at the interior walls of the rectum and the entire colon, should be done every 10 years. During this procedure, the physician may collect samples of tissue for closer examination or may remove polyps. Colonoscopies can be used as screening tests or as follow-up diagnostic tools when the results of another screening test are positive.
Colonoscopy also is used as a diagnostic test when a person has symptoms, and it can be used as a follow-up test when the results of another colorectal cancer screening test are unclear or abnormal.
Your risk of getting colorectal cancer increases as you get older. More than 90 percent of cases occur in people who are 50 years old or older. Other risk factors include having:
- Inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.
- A personal or family history of colorectal cancer or colorectal polyps.
- A genetic syndrome such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (Lynch syndrome).
Lifestyle factors that may contribute to an increased risk of colorectal cancer include:
Skin Cancer Screenings
Annual body screenings are recommended—or more often for those with higher risks.
Why it Matters
Skin cancer affects one in five people by age 70. There is a wide range of skin cancer types. Some are more common but still need to be cared for and some can be life-threatening. It’s important to be aware of and monitor your skin and to see a dermatologist if you notice any changes.
As Colorado residents, it’s also important to take extra skin-care precautions because of our higher altitude. For every 1000 feet you go up, the intensity of the sun is much greater.
We recommend you discuss skin cancer screening with your health care provider. Find a primary care provider at UCHealth.