Screening guidelines for various cancers change as experts learn more about those diseases. Sometimes changes are made to decrease over-testing. In other cases, screening becomes available at younger ages or updated frequencies. Regardless, cancer screening aims to intercept cancer early when it’s easier to treat. In some cases, screening can detect cancer and pre-cancer before symptoms even begin.
Cancer screening and women’s health
Cancer screening is an important part of women’s health, so make sure you discuss your screening options at your annual women’s wellness visit. There are some screenings recommended for all people with breasts or a cervix.
Cervical cancer screening was previously recommended for women every year with a pap test. HPV infection and early cervical cancer don’t cause noticeable symptoms, so regular screenings can detect changes in the cervix that might lead to cancer in the future. But, Dr. Chris DeStephano, a minimally invasive gynecologic surgeon at Mayo Clinic in Florida says we’ve learned more about the necessary frequency of cervical cancer screening.
“Data over time has shown that these tests are not needed annually in most patients,” says Dr. DeStephano. “Routine screening every three years with a Pap test or every five years with HPV testing ensures precancerous changes are caught early and may be followed more closely or treated.”
Breast cancer screening guidelines also have changed recently. Previous guidelines recommended people of average risk begin screening at age 50. Official screening guidelines were drafted this year to suggest all people with breasts undergo screening starting at age 40. Mayo Clinic experts have historically followed the newly accepted guideline, as early screening and detection has been associated with improved survival.
Cancer screening for all people
Cancer screening is important for all people, regardless of gender. It’s important to discuss your individual risk and family history with your health care team to ensure you’re following the screening plan that’s right for you. In general, those of average risk can follow national screening guidelines.
Colorectal cancer screening is now recommended beginning at age 45 versus 50 and non-invasive screening options now exist. The change in screening age recommendation reflects the increasing rate of colon cancer diagnoses in younger patients.
Screening guidelines also vary depending on other factors and your individual cancer risk. In Black men, prostate cancer screening should be discussed with a clinician starting at age 45, and men of all races should discuss after age 50 years old. People over the age of 50 who currently smoke or used to smoke should discuss lung cancer screening with a doctor because low dose chest scans now can be performed to identify lung cancer in earlier stages to prevent death.
In some cases, formal screening recommendations are changed to break down barriers and simplify access for patients. It can be easier for insurance companies to cover cancer screening when aligned with formal recommendations. Check with your care team about your screening options because ultimately the best screening is the one you can follow through with.
Evaluating female screening perspectives
As cancer screening guidelines are changing and patients increasingly do not have a single primary care provider, it is important to stay on top of cancer screenings. In order to better target cancer screening to populations that may benefit, Dr. DeStephano and his team developed a questionnaire for women about their perspectives on primary care and cancer screening.
“We hope to use this community data to improve options for preventative care,” says Dr. DeStephano. “Many of the highest risk patients are those who don’t have regular access to primary care or preventative screenings.”
All women may complete the questionnaire to help identify new health challenges and opportunities for preventative health at MayoClinic.org/health-needs. https://surveys.mayoclinic.org/jfe/form/SV_ePYVoHAnfB3IiLc
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