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Cancer Screening Guidelines For Women

October 13, 2022

cancer screenings, cancer treatmentsEarly detection of cancer can make a world of difference when it comes to beating and treating cancer, no matter the type. Cancer screenings can help detect cancer before any signs or symptoms of cancer even begin. 

Much like other types of health screenings, the frequency of cancer screenings depends on a woman's age, risk factors, and the specific type of cancer being screened for. Knowing what cancer screening tests you should be receiving and when is a vital aspect of women's healthcare

Why Cancer Screening Timetables Matter

Cancer prevention and cancer treatment experts base the recommended starting age and frequency of different types of cancer screenings for a reason. These intervals give doctors the best chance of detecting and treating cancer as early as possible. Successful cancer treatment can be heavily impacted by how early cancer is detected. For example:

  • Breast cancer 5-year survival rates: early detection = 99%, late detection 29% (when spread to a distant part of the body)

  • Cervical cancer 5-year survival rates: early detection = over 90%, late detection 18% (when spread to a distant part of the body)

Not only does early detection improve cancer survival rates, but it can also require less invasive/intense/frequent treatments. This can lead to lower medical costs, improved quality of life, and a myriad of other benefits.

Breast Cancer Screenings

When to Get Your First Breast Cancer Screening

Self-breast exams to detect any signs of breast cancer, such as a lump in the breast, can be beneficial for women of any age. Breast cancer exams performed by a doctor are typically recommended once a woman reaches 40 years of age. 

How Often to Get Breast Cancer Screenings

How often you should get breast cancer screenings depends on your age. 

  • Women ages 40-54: annual breast exams

  • Women ages 55 and older: breast exams every two years 

Types of Breast Cancer Screening Tests

Mammograms are low-level x-rays that are used to detect signs of breast cancer. Self-breast exams should be done on a routine basis to feel for any noticeable changes.

Factors That Increase The Risk of Breast Cancer

There are a number of risk factors that increase a woman's risk of getting breast cancer. Some breast cancer risk factors include:

  • Age: The risk of developing breast cancer increases with age with the median age for developing breast cancer being 63.

  • Previous Diagnosis: If you’ve previously had cancer in one breast, there is a higher risk of developing cancer in the other breast.

  • Family History of Breast Cancer: About 5-10% of breast cancer cases are thought to be hereditary. 

Cervical Cancer Screenings

When to Get Your First Cervical Cancer Screening

Routine cervical cancer screenings should begin around the age of 25 and should also include an HPV test.

How Often to Get Cervical Cancer Screenings

HPV tests that can detect cervical cancer should be done every 5 years. Visual exams and Pap smears can be done during routine gynecological exams. 

Types of Cervical Cancer Screening Tests

An HPV test is done on a sample of cells from the cervix and is tested for the strains of HPV that are most commonly linked to cervical cancer. Pap tests (Pap smears) are the most common tests for detecting early changes in cells that could be linked to cervical cancer. These two tests can also be combined and done together. 

Factors That Increase The Risk of Cervical Cancer

There are a variety of risk factors that increase a woman's risk of getting cervical cancer. A few common cervical cancer risk factors include:

  • Age: Women younger than 20 rarely develop cervical cancer. 

  • HPV Infection

  • Immune System Deficiency 

  • Herpes 

  • Smoking: Women who smoke are about twice as likely to develop cervical cancer compared to those who don't smoke.

Endometrial/Uterine Cancer Screenings

When to Get Your First Uterine Cancer Screening

Endometrial cancer is a form of cancer that begins in the uterus and is often called uterine cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends that at the time of menopause, all women should be told about the risks and symptoms of endometrial cancer.

Signs/Symptoms of Uterine Cancer 

Signs of uterine cancer include unusual vaginal bleeding and/or discharge, abnormalities in Pap smear results, and pain in the pelvic area.

Types of Uterine Cancer Screening Tests

The type of test used to diagnose uterine cancer depends on a variety of factors. Common diagnostic methods include:

  • Endometrial Biopsy

  • Transvaginal Ultrasound

  • A CT Scan or MRI

Factors That Increase The Risk of Uterine Cancer

There are many risk factors that increase a woman's risk of getting uterine cancer. A few uterine cancer risk factors include:

  • Age: Uterine cancer is most common after the age of 50 with the average age of diagnosis being 60.

  • Obesity: About 70% of cases of uterine cancer are linked to obesity. 

  • Genetics: Women with a family history of colon cancer and Lynch syndrome are at an increased risk of uterine cancer.

  • Health Factors: Women with type 2 diabetes, other cancers, who have had extended exposure to estrogen, who have a poor diet, and who have had radiation therapy are at an increased risk of uterine cancer.

Ovarian, Fallopian Tube, and Peritoneal Cancer

There are no recommended screening tests for ovarian cancer for women who do not have symptoms and are not at high risk of developing ovarian cancer. This is due to a variety of factors including difficulty diagnosing until symptoms are present, routine health exams don’t screen for these types of cancer, and certain symptoms can be due to a myriad of other conditions and patient factors. 

  • Increased risk factors include:

    • Family History and Genetics

    • History of Hormone Replacement Therapy

    • Age (about half of women diagnosed are over the age of 63)

  • Signs/symptoms include:

    • Abdominal bloating and/or pain

    • Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly

    • Pain during intercourse 

    • Urinary symptoms, such as urgency or frequency

    • Menstrual irregularities 

Skin Cancer and Lung Cancer

Screening and risk factors for these two types of cancers vary from patient to patient. If you notice symptoms/abnormalities/have concerns, you should consult your doctor to discuss your symptoms and possible diagnosis. 

Additional Cancer Screenings

There are many other types of cancer women are susceptible to so routine check-ups are vital. During annual physicals or any of the screening intervals discussed above, your doctor can address any necessary concerns and perform any necessary testing. If you’re experiencing any noticeable changes to your health, it is always a good idea to meet with your doctor as soon as possible to discuss your concerns, perform relevant diagnostic tests, and prescribe a treatment plan if necessary.

Cancer Screenings and Cancer Treatment For Every Stage of Life

Whether you’re at an increased risk of cancer and need additional testing, are due for a routine cancer screening, or want to explore new treatment options for an existing condition, the Gabrielson Clinic for Women is here for you. Our women's clinic provides care for women of all ages, and through our partnership with Iowa Specialty Hospitals & Clinics, we can meet any of your healthcare needs. From diagnosis to treatment, the Gabrielson Clinic for Women and Iowa Specialty Hospitals & Clinics are here to provide compassionate, comprehensive women's health services.

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