preventive cancer screenings
The Preventive Health Issue

Add These Preventive Cancer Screenings to Your Calendar

And learn how to pay for them

Cancer screenings are designed to find cancer early when it's treatable and curable. Cancer screenings are based on the identified type of cancer, gender, age, and risk factors.

Barriers to getting regular cancer screenings are fear, lack of understanding, absence of health insurance, and sometimes, inadequate knowledge about screening recommendations by healthcare providers.

This article will explain cancer screenings for females and males by age, the costs, and how to find inexpensive or free options.

Cancer Prevention

Living a healthy lifestyle helps prevent cancer. For example, eating fresh fruits and vegetables, exercising, and refraining from smoking and drinking help prevent cancer.

Cancer Screenings for Females

Cancer screenings for females begin around 25 years old, and specific recommendations depend on your age.

Ages 25-39 Screening Recommendations

Ages 40-49 Screening Recommendations

  • Breast cancer: Some females will have the choice to start yearly mammograms at ages 40-44. Starting at 45, all females should get an annual (once a year) mammogram.
  • Colon cancer: Starting at age 45, people with average risk should start colon cancer testing. Options include yearly stool-based tests, multi-targeted stool DNA tests every three years, a colonoscopy every 10 years, a CT colonography, or flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years.
  • Cervical cancer: People with a cervix should get screened regularly with either an HPV test every five years, an HPV+Pap test every five years, or a Pap test alone every three years until 65.

Ages 50+ Screening Recommendations

  • Breast cancer: At age 55, you can space out mammograms every two years or continue yearly screenings. It is important to maintain monthly self-breast exams.
  • Colon cancer: Continue screening with stool-based tests or visual exams if you have a life expectancy of more than 10 years. People 85 and older should stop colon cancer screenings.
  • Cervical cancer: Continue HPV testing, or HPV+Pap test, every five years, or Pap test alone every three years. At 65, you may stop testing if you've had normal cervical cancer testing for 10 years. If you do not have a cervix, you may stop testing (unless you have had cervical cancer or pre-cancer). People with risk factors (pre-cervical cancer) should continue cervical cancer screenings for 25 years.
  • Lung cancer: Start low-dose CT screening annually if you are a former (quit in the past 15 years) or current smoker, have a 20-pack-year smoking history, and are 50-80 years old. A pack-year is one pack of cigarettes per day per year; therefore, one pack per day for 20 years or two packs per day for 10 years would be 20 pack-years.

Cancer Screenings for Males

Below are screening recommendations for men, which can start around age 25.

Ages 25-39 Screening Recommendations

  • Colon cancer: You may need colon cancer testing if you have a family history (first-degree relative with colorectal cancer) or a genetic disorder such as Lynch syndrome.

Ages 40-49 Screening Recommendations

  • Colon cancer: Starting at age 45, people with average risk should start colon cancer testing. Options include a yearly stool-based test, multi-targeted stool DNA test every three years, a colonoscopy every 10 years, CT colonography, or flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years.
  • Prostate cancer: If you have a close family member who had prostate cancer before age 65 or you are African American, you should talk to your healthcare provider about starting prostate cancer testing at 45.

Ages 50+ Screening Recommendations

  • Colon cancer: Continue screening with stool-based tests or visual exams if you have a life expectancy of more than 10 years. People aged 85 and older should stop colon cancer screening.
  • Lung cancer: Start low-dose CT screenings annually if you are a former (quit in the past 15 years) or current smoker, have a 20-pack-year smoking history, and are 50-80 years old. A pack-year is one pack of cigarettes per day per year; therefore, one pack per day for 20 years or two packs per day for ten years would be 20 pack-years.
  • Prostate cancer: All males 50 and over should talk to their healthcare provider about starting prostate cancer testing.

Other Screenings

In addition to having regular skin exams, other cancer screenings to consider are:

How Much Do Cancer Screenings Cost?

Some insurance companies will cover cancer screenings. Call your insurance company and ask what tests they cover, how much out-of-pocket cost there may be, and if you need to go to a specific healthcare organization or specialist.

What If I Can't Afford Cancer Screenings?

If you do not have health insurance or cancer screenings are not covered under your plan, contact your local health department to find organizations that may provide free cancer screenings in your area. Health fairs are another way to get a free screening.

How to Prepare

Here is how you prepare for cancer screenings:

  • Mammogram: Do not wear deodorant, lotion, or creams. Tell the technologist if you have breast implants or are breastfeeding. The tests take about 20 minutes, and you should receive results in seven to 10 days.
  • Pap test: It's best not to be on your period when scheduled for a Pap test. Do not use tampons, douche, or have penetrative sex within two days of your test. The procedure takes about five minutes, and you can expect results in approximately seven days.
  • Stool-based tests: You will collect three stool samples (at different times), package, and ship the samples per instructions. Results take one to two weeks.
  • Colonoscopy: You will need to do a bowel prep the day before the procedure to empty your colon and rectum. This is done by drinking a bowel prep fluid, taking pills, or enemas. You will be given medicine through an IV in your arm to help you relax during the colonoscopy. It takes about 30 minutes, and you should receive results in two to three weeks.
  • Low-dose CT scan: Leave any metal jewelry or body piercings at home. You will likely change into a gown before your procedure. This non-invasive procedure does not require dyes, injections, or contrast. You will lay flat on a table with your arms above your head. The table will pass through a hollow CT scanner. You may be asked to hold your breath from time to time. The entire scan takes about 30 minutes, and you should have results in a few days.
  • Prostate-specific Antigen test: You do not need to fast before the blood test. Do not ejaculate within 48 hours of the test, as it can increase your PSA level. Results take a few days to two weeks.

If results are normal you will likely receive a letter in the mail; if they are suspicious of cancer, your healthcare provider or nurse will call you

How to Schedule a Cancer Screening

You will need an order or referral from a healthcare provider to receive most cancer screenings. A healthcare provider can help set you up with testing.

Summary

Cancer screenings help find cancer early, leading to better health outcomes. The cancer screenings you need depend on your gender, age, and risk factors. Many insurance plans pay for preventive cancer screening. If you don't have health insurance or your insurance doesn't cover cancer screening, call your local health department to find free cancer screenings near you.

A Word From Verywell

Receiving cancer screenings can make some people nervous because they are unsure of what will be discovered. While you may be scared to find out if you have cancer, studies show that finding cancer sooner improves your chances of being cured. It's never too late to receive cancer screenings. Call a healthcare provider to discuss which tests are best for you.

10 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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