You don’t have to have symptoms to have cancer. Screening tests can catch cancer early or prevent it from developing. The screening tests below have been proven to save lives. Tell your healthcare provider if you have a family history of cancer. Early or more frequent screening might be recommended.
How Can I Get Cancer Screenings?
If you have health insurance, ask your healthcare provider what screening tests are right for you. Most insurance plans now provide full coverage for preventive services, including cancer screening. Contact your health insurance provider for information about what they cover.
If you don’t have health insurance, there are options for free or low-cost health insurance.
Types of Cancer Screening
Colon Cancer Screening
- Screening can find precancerous polyps—abnormal growths in the colon or rectum—so that they can be removed before turning into cancer. Screening tests can also find colon cancer early when treatment works best.
- Men and women should start routine screening at age 50. If everybody age 50 or older had regular screening tests, up to 60 percent of deaths from colon cancer could be prevented.
- If you have a personal or family history of polyps or colon cancer, talk to your healthcare provider about when you should be screened.
Breast Cancer Screening
- Mammograms are currently the best way to detect breast cancer early, when it is easier to treat.
- Most breast cancers occur in women over the age of 50, and the risk is especially high for women over 60.
- If you have a personal or family history of breast cancer, talk to your healthcare provider about when you should be screened.
Cervical Cancer Screening
- Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable types of cancer.
- The Pap test is highly effective at finding cancer early, when the chance of being cured is very high. The Pap test can also find cells before they turn into cancer.
- Since the human papillomavirus (HPV) causes cervical cancer, getting an HPV vaccine while young can prevent cervical cancer.
Other Cancer Screening Tests
- Screening tests for other types of cancer may be available. Talk with your healthcare provider about whether these tests are right for you.
- Be sure to tell your healthcare provider if you have had cancer in the past or if you people in your family have had cancer.
Challenges of Cancer Screening Programs
- Some people find some screening tests invasive, uncomfortable, unpleasant or embarrassing, and may not want to participate in the program.
- A person may be afraid of medical tests or procedures, and avoid screening altogether. Concerns or fears about a screening test can be discussed with a doctor. It may be helpful to take a family member or friend along for support and reassurance.
- The tests aren’t perfect. Every test carries a small risk of giving a ‘false negative’, which means that the test shows the person doesn’t have cancer when in fact they do. There is also a small risk of giving a ‘false positive’, which means that the test concludes the person has cancer when they don’t. This can lead to unnecessary worry and invasive tests such as a biopsy. Some of these tests may carry a small but usually significant risk of side effects or complications.
- Every test also carries a small risk of ‘over-diagnosis’, which refers to the diagnosis of disease that will never cause symptoms or death during the person’s lifetime.
See your doctor if you have symptoms
Cancer screening is testing for early signs of some types of cancer in people who have no symptoms. If you have any health concerns, or worrying symptoms, always see your doctor without delay.
Reducing Cancer Risk
You can reduce your risk of cancer by:
- having regular screening tests when due
- not smoking
- avoiding second-hand tobacco smoke (passive smoking)
- being sunsmart
- being physically active
- maintaining a healthy body weight
- avoiding or limiting alcohol
- eating a healthy diet.