Cancer Screenings: The Types That Can Save Your Life

cancer patient receiving treatment

Getting screened for cancer can save your life. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Not many people would argue the utter pain and heartache that go along with cancer, and most wouldn’t wish the disease on their worst enemy. From watching a family member suffer to cheering on a friend, the battle against cancer can be grueling. Sadly, some people find themselves with the disease despite no symptoms at all.

With so much research conducted and money spent, it’s hard to believe cancer remains the second most common cause of death in the U.S., according to the American Cancer Society.

Because cancer is so common, it’s a good idea to consider cancer screenings. These tests can help intercept any preliminary signs of cancer before symptoms have actually appeared. The National Cancer Institute says cancer may be easier to treat when detected early. While the actual screening itself may come with its own risks, it’s important to discuss potential benefits with your doctor. Tests typically include a physical exam, assessing the patient’s health history, blood or urine tests, imaging procedures, and genetic tests, which can search for gene mutations that may be linked to cancer.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention supports screening for breast, cervical, colorectal, and lung cancers. Let’s take a closer look at each.

1. Breast cancer

A nurse performs a mammography

Get a mammogram to catch breast cancer early. | Mychele Daniau/AFP/Getty Images

Mammograms, which takes an X-ray of the breast, are the most common way to detect breast cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends women between the ages of 40 and 44 get mammograms if they want to while those between 45 and 54 really need to get one every year. Women over the age of 55 can cut it back to once every other year and should continue as long as a woman is in good health and expected to live 10 years or more.

2. Cervical cancer

Female holding her belly due to Stomach Ache

A Pap test can detect cervical cancer. | iStock.com

A woman’s Pap test can either find cervical cancer or detect any abnormal cells in the cervix, which could potentially lead to cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends women begin cervical cancer testing at age 21 and get their Pap every three years until the age of 29. Women ages 30 to 65 should have a Pap test plus an HPV test every five years. For those over the age of 65, it’s usually no longer necessary to continue unless there’s a family history.

3. Lung cancer

a lung x-ray of a cigarette smoker

Those who have smoked heavily should get this screening. | American Cancer Society via Getty Images

When you think of lung cancer, your mind probably goes right to smoking. While other factors may also play a role, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends annual lung cancer screenings for people age 55 to 80 who have a history of heavy smoking, even those who’ve quit within the past 15 years. Lung cancer screening is done with low-dose computed tomography (LDCT), a type of CT scan.

4. Colorectal (colon) cancer

man sitting on the bed

Everyone should get a colon cancer screening once they reach 50. | iStock.com

Screening for colon cancer is important as it can find precancerous polyps. Colon cancer almost always develops from these abnormal growths in the colon or rectum. As recommended by the American Cancer Society, both men and women should follow one of these testing plans starting at the age of 50. Individuals can choose from a number of tests, such as a colonoscopy or a type of fecal test. The recommended frequency for each of these tests is a bit different, so you’ll want to consult with a physician to find out what will be best for you.