When it comes to cancer, early screening and detection can literally mean the difference between life and death. Recommended health screenings by age vary according to the type of cancer and the patient’s risk factors.

What Is Cancer Screening?

One out of every three people will eventually hear the words, “You have cancer.” The good news is that when many cancers are caught early, before they metastasize or spread, they are treatable.

Cancer screening may involve various tests, depending on the type of cancer. Such tests include:

  • Physical examination
  • Medical history
  • Laboratory tests
  • Imaging tests
  • Genetic tests

Keep in mind that both false-negative and false-positive results are possible with cancer screening tests. While the latter will require further testing, the former can give patients a false sense of security. That’s why it’s critical to undergo regular screenings.

The Importance of Health Screening for Cancer

The National Cancer Institute notes that cancer screening is important because it can detect cancer before a person experiences symptoms. When found early, many cancers are curable. Once symptoms develop, the tumor  has probably already grown and spread. At that point, the cancer is often not curable or becomes much harder to treat.

Types of Cancer and Screening Age

The screening age for different types of cancer depends on risk factors as well as age. A person with a family history of a particular cancer or someone who engages in behavior that increases cancer risk should start screenings at an earlier age, as per their doctor’s recommendation.

For example, lung cancer screening is recommended annually based on smoking history. Anyone who has a 20-year smoking history or either currently smokes or has quit within the past 15 years should undergo a yearly screening with low-dose computed tomography.

Women and Cancer Screening Age

Certain cancers only or primarily affect women. Cervical cancer was once the number one cancer killer in women. Since routine use of the Pap test began, cervical cancer deaths have dropped dramatically.    Cervical cancer screening should begin at age 25. Along with a Pap test, many women receive a HPV test to detect the presence of the human papillomavirus, the main cause of cervical cancer. Women aged 25 to 65 should have a HPV test every five years or a Pap test every three years.

Breast cancer screenings in the form of mammograms are usually recommended for women beginning at the age of 40. Research suggests menopausal status rather than age is the better indicator when it comes to breast screening frequency. Researchers at the University of California-Davis found that premenopausal women receiving screenings every two years as opposed to those receiving annual screenings were more likely to have breast cancers diagnosed at later stages, larger sizes and with positive nodes. The latter means breast cancer cells were found in the lymph nodes under the armpit. All of these characteristics indicate a more aggressive breast cancer.

The study suggests that while postmenopausal women may safely undergo a screening mammogram every two years, premenopausal women should have annual screening until reaching menopause.

Men and Cancer Screening Age

Prostate cancer is one of the most common cancers affecting males. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), men between the ages of 55 and 69 should make individual decisions regarding prostate cancer screening via prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test after a discussion with their doctor. This is a blood test measuring the level of PSA. High levels may indicate prostate cancer but could also result from other prostate issues. A prostate biopsy may prove necessary in men with high PSA levels for cancer detection.

Recommended Health Screenings by Age   

The recommended health screenings by age for those with an average risk of specific cancers are:

Type of cancer                                                          Initial screening age and frequency

Breast                                                                    45                    annual

Cervical                                                                25                    3 to 5 years

Colorectal                                                             45                    10 years

Lung (smokers)                                                   50                    annual

Oral                                                                       20                   annual

Prostate                                                               55                     2-3 years

Skin                                                                        45                    annual                                

Cancer Screenings at Yosemite Pathology

For more than 70 years, Yosemite Pathology and Precision Pathology has advanced anatomic pathology in the Western United States. Today, our practice encompasses more than 20 board certified anatomic pathology specialists. We provide results for a range of cancer screening types. For more information about our services, contact us today.

Jane Meggitt’s work has appeared in dozens of publications including USA Today, Zack’s, Financial Advisor, nj.com, The Houston Chronicle and The Nest. She is a graduate of New York University.


American Cancer Society –  American Cancer Society Guidelines for the Early Detection of Cancer

National Cancer Institute –  Cancer Screening Overview (PDQ®)–Patient Version

Medline Plus – Health screenings for men ages 40 to 64

JAMA Network – “Breast Tumor Prognostic Characteristics and Biennial vs Annual Mammography, Age, and Menopausal Status

American Cancer Society – The American Cancer Society Guidelines for the Prevention and Early Detection of Cervical Cancer

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – Should I Get Screened for Prostate Cancer?

American Cancer Society — Cancer Screening Guidelines by Age