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Types of Cancers with Recommended Early Screenings


Many types of cancers are generally easiest to treat and manage in its early stages, which is why experts recommend screening for cancer early. Recently, the medical community has reevaluated their standard guidance to embrace a more measured approach to early screenings, recommending them for certain types of cancers but not others.

At the present time, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends early screenings for four types of cancers: breast cancer, colorectal cancer, lung cancer, and cervical cancer. These recommendations are officially supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) because these early cancer screening tests have been shown to be effective in reducing death rates.1

In this article, we’ll examine current recommendations for early cancer screening programs in more detail.

Currently Recommended Early Cancer Screening Tests

Let’s take a closer look at the four types of cancer screenings that are recommended by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Screenings for these cancers have been proven to reduce mortality rates.

Breast Cancer

Women should have their breasts examined by a health care provider for signs of cancer in its early stages, before symptoms develop. There are several types of breast cancer screening tests:

Mammogram – This test involves using an X-ray machine to take pictures of the patient's breasts. The patient stands before the machine while each breast is X-rayed individually, from the front and the side. This produces four X-rays that the technician hands off to a radiologist for analysis. The patient usually gets their results back within a couple of weeks.

MRI – Magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI for short, involves having the patient lie down inside a long, cylindrical, tube-like machine. The machine generates a magnetic field that is used to create a two-dimensional image of the patient's breasts. This procedure is commonly recommended for women who are at high-risk for breast cancer.

Clinical Breast Exam – This procedure involves a doctor or nurse using their hands to detect breast abnormalities.

Medical authorities vary in breast cancer screening guidelines, particularly regarding the age in which women should start undergoing these tests. In general, women are advised to begin routine breast cancer screenings at age 40, or sometimes sooner if they fall into a high-risk group such as having a family history of the disease. The CDC has posted a chart of breast cancer screening guidelines (PDF) that provides an overview of the different recommendations that have been issued by various medical organizations.

magnetic resonance imaging scan device

Colorectal Cancer

This type of cancer usually begins with the development of precancerous polyps that eventually become cancerous. Discovering these polyps in their early stages and getting them removed can prevent most cases of colorectal cancer. For that reason, the USPSTF recommends colorectal screening for individuals age 50 to 75.3 For those with at high-risk, your provider may recommend you begin screening at an earlier age.

There are several types of colorectal cancer screenings:

Colonoscopy – This test uses a long, flexible tube to check the patient's rectum and colon for polyps. It is usually performed every ten years depending on the patient’s history and risk level.

Virtual colonoscopy – Also known as CT colonography, this procedure uses an X-ray scanner to generate images of the colon. It is less invasive than a traditional colonoscopy, although it does involve inserting a small tube into the rectum in order to pump a gas into the colon, which expands it to enable easier analysis. Virtual colonoscopy is usually performed every five years.

Flexible sigmoidoscopy – This procedure entails inserting a flexible tube, outfitted with a small video camera, into the rectum. It is also less invasive than a colonoscopy, but a flexible sigmoidoscopy cannot examine the patient's entire colon; therefore, it is not commonly used for those in the high-risk category.

Stool tests – These tests detect blood or altered DNA in the patient's stool, which are indicators that cancer cells have developed in the colorectal area. Available tests include the guaiac-based fecal occult blood test (gFOBT), the fecal immunochemical test (FIT), and the FIT-DNA test. These tests are usually performed once a year.4

The specific type of screening that is best for a particular patient depends on a number of factors. Your doctor will help you determine which course of action is right for you.

Lung Cancer

The only type of recommended early screening test for lung cancer is known as low-dose computed tomography (LDCT). This non-invasive screening involves having the patient lie down on a table for a few minutes while an X-ray machine generates images of the lungs. The procedure requires the use of a small amount of radiation.

An LDCT scan is recommended only for patients who meet all of the following criteria:

  • Age 55 to 80
  • Thirty pack years of smoking history (that is, the equivalent of smoking one pack a day for thirty years)
  • Currently smoke or quit within the last fifteen years

An individual who does not meet all of these criteria is not encouraged to undergo an LDCT scan or any other type of early lung cancer screening.5

Doctor radiology check up xray image

Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer occurs when the cells in the cervix (the lower part of the uterus) undergo DNA mutations that cause them to experience abnormal growth. The two most common varieties of cervical cancers are squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma. It is believed that most cases of cervical cancer are caused by genital human papillomavirus (HPV), an extremely common sexually transmitted infection (STI).

There are two types of early cervical cancer screenings:

Pap test – Also called a Pap smear, this screening test is intended to locate cell abnormalities on the cervix that can eventually become cancerous. The test utilizes a speculum to examine the cervical area.

HPV test – This test collects cells from the cervix for analysis to detect the presence of the human papillomavirus. It should be noted that the HPV test cannot detect cancer, only HPV infection.

The Pap test and the HPV test are often performed during the same visit. Medical experts recommend that women begin undergoing Pap tests beginning at age 21. HPV testing isn’t recommended before age 30.6

Crystal Run Healthcare has locations in New York State—Middletown, Monroe, Newburgh, Rock Hill, and West Nyack—that specialize in providing patients with a full range of testing and treatment options for oncological disorders. Crystal Run is certified by the Quality Oncology Practice Initiative (QOPI®) in recognition of our excellence in the areas of cancer care and adherence to chemotherapy safety standards. If you have questions about undergoing a cancer screening in New York at Crystal Run or wish to set up an appointment, visit our website at