Cancer | Diagnosis & Tests


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Cancer: Medical Vocabulary

What screening tests should women have?

Increasing age is the most important risk factor for breast cancer for most women. To help find breast cancer early, your doctor may perform a clinical breast exam (where he or she checks your breasts for lumps). Discuss the benefits and harms of a clinical breast exam with your doctor.

A mammogram is a special type of low-radiation X-ray of the breast. If you are between the ages of 50 and 75, you should have a mammogram every 2 years. If you are at high risk for breast cancer, such as a history of breast cancer in your family, your doctor may want you to have mammograms more often or at a younger age than 50. The value of mammography for average-risk women in their 40s is controversial and you should discuss the pros and cons of this with your doctor to make a decision you are comfortable with.

During a Pap smear, your doctor takes a sample of cells from your cervix to be tested for cervical cancer. Unless your doctor suggests that you need one more often, you should have a Pap smear:

  • Every 3 years beginning at 21 years of age and continuing until 65 years of age
  • Within 3 years of when you start having sex if you are younger than 21 years of age
  • If you are between 30 and 65 years of age and you want to have Pap smears less often, talk to your doctor about combining a Pap smear with human papillomavirus (HPV) testing every 5 years

Certain things put you at higher or lower risk for cervical cancer. Your doctor will consider these when recommending how often you should have a Pap smear.

If you're older than 65 years of age, talk with your doctor about how often you need a Pap smear. If you've been having Pap smears regularly and they've been normal, you may not need to keep having them.

If you've had a hysterectomy with removal of your cervix, talk with your doctor about how often you need a Pap smear.

If you've never had a high-grade precancerous lesion or cervical cancer, ask your doctor how often you need a Pap smear.

What screening tests should men have?

To make a decision about screening for prostate cancer, first talk to your doctor about the pros and cons of screening. Factors such as family history, age and race play a part in the risk of prostate cancer.

The National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and the American Academy of Family Physicians recommend that men talk to their doctors about screening and make a decision based on the risk and potential benefits of screening, as well as their own personal values and preferences.

If you decide to have screening, your doctor will order a blood test called the PSA test. PSA is short for prostate-specific antigen. Men who have prostate cancer may have a higher level of PSA in their blood. However, the PSA level can also be high because of less serious causes, such as infection.

The AAFP recommends against prostate-specific antigen (PSA)-based screening for prostate cancer.

Written by editorial staff

Reviewed/Updated: 02/14
Created: 06/02

Learn More About Cancer Diagnosis & Tests

Cancer: Medical Vocabulary