Stay Informed: The Top 5 Cancer Screenings You Should Prioritize in 2024

Stay Informed: The Top 5 Cancer Screenings You Should Prioritize in 2024
04.01.2024
  • Experts share top preventative cancer screenings to prioritize in 2024.
  • Cancer screenings can help detect cancer earlier.
  • Your primary care doctor can help determine which screening is best for you based on your age and risk level.

The new year often brings about new health goals, and one goal everyone should consider adding to their list is scheduling screenings for cancer.

“The advantage of regular cancer screening is that cancers that are small and without any symptoms can be found early, when treatment is more successful,” Robert Smith, PhD, senior vice president of cancer screening for the American Cancer Society, told Healthline. “Cancer screening works best when it is done regularly according to the guidelines.”

He said to think of cancer screening as part of your preventive health plan, meaning you should always be current for the cancer screening that is recommended for your gender and age group.

As the medical field continues to understand the importance of screening in regards to improving health, impacting survival, and reducing the number of people who develop late-stage cancer, it will be able to help more people obtain screening earlier, which may impact curative potential of many diseases, said Dr. Ajaz M. Khan chair in the department of medical oncology at City of Hope Atlanta, Chicago and Phoenix.

As certain cancers like breast, colon and lung continue to increase, screening becomes more and more critical, he added.

“More importantly, they establish criteria and guidelines that can help determine patients that are at higher risk based upon their age, gender, family, and social history. Early detection of cancers may also help improve survival and offer curative options for treatment,” Khan told Healthline.

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The top five cancer screenings to consider in 2024

Health experts say that the top five cancer screenings that should be on your radar in the new year include the following:

Mammogram

A mammogram takes an X-ray picture of the breast, so doctors can analyze the breast for early signs of breast cancer. Getting regular mammograms allows doctors to compare changes in breasts over time, and allows them to find breast cancer early, sometimes up to three years before the cancer can be felt.

The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends the following guidelines for women at average risk for breast cancer, meaning they don’t have a personal history of breast cancer, a strong family history of breast cancer, or a genetic mutation known to increase risk of breast cancer (such as in a BRCA gene), and have not had chest radiation therapy before the age of 30.

  • Women 40 to 44 can start getting annual mammograms.
  • Women 45 to 54 should get mammograms every year.
  • Women 55 and older can get annual mammograms or choose to get them every other year if they are in good health and expected to live at least 10 more years.

“[In] patients with higher risk, which is dependent upon familial or individual risk, screening may also include [ultrasound and] MRI evaluations,” said Khan.

Cervical cancer screening

The following two tests can help detect cervical cancer early or prevent it. Your doctor can do both tests in the office by collecting cells and mucus from the cervix and the area around it. The sample is then sent to a lab for testing.

  • HPV test, which detects the human papillomavirus that can cause cell changes on the cervix. If HPV does not clear on its own, it can cause genital warts and cancer.
  • Pap smear looks for cell changes on the cervix that could turn into cervical cancer if left untreated.
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“Cervical cancer screening usually begins after the age of 18 and women can obtain a Pap smear evaluation along with testing for HPV DNA in order to assess for higher risk of development of cervical cancer,” said Khan.

Depending on your age, your doctor will determine how often you need these tests.

Colorectal screenings

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends that both men and women age 45 to 75 be screened for colorectal cancer. Those older than 75 and those at increased risk for colorectal cancer should talk to their doctor regarding screening.

While there are several screening tests that can detect polyps or colorectal cancer, such as flexible sigmoidoscopy and stool tests, colonoscopy is often used for preventive screening.

During a colonoscopy, a doctor checks the rectum and colon for polyps or cancer by using a flexible, lighted tube. If polyps and cancer are found, the doctor can sometimes remove them during the procedure.

If everything looks normal, your doctor will recommend getting another colonoscopy in 10 years, “but the interval of screening will be dependent upon both individual and familial risk,” said Khan.

Prostate cancer screening

A prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test detects PSA, which is a protein made by cells in the prostate gland (both normal cells and cancer cells).

The higher the PSA levels, the higher the chance of having prostate cancer. Doctors vary on when they believe a man needs further testing with some using a PSA cutoff point of 4 ng/mL or higher and others recommending more testing when levels are 2.5 or 3, according to the ACS.

Doctors should talk to men about prostate screening at the following ages, according to guidelines from the ACS:

  • 50 for men who are at average risk of prostate cancer and are expected to live at least 10 more years.
  • 45 for men at high risk of developing prostate cancer, such as African American men and men who have a first-degree relative diagnosed with prostate cancer before age 65.
  • 40 for men with more than one first-degree relative who had prostate cancer at an early age.
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Lung cancer screening

The USPSTF recommends that people who match the below criteria get lung cancer screening once a year:

  • Have a 20 pack-year or more smoking history (for example, one pack a day for 20 years or two packs a day for 10 years), and
  • Currently smoke or are a former smoker who quit within the past 15 years, and
  • Are between 50 and 80 years old

A low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) scan is the only recommended screening test for lung cancer. The scan is done quickly and involves an X-ray machine taking images of your lungs.

How can I find screening options?

Typically, your primary care or family doctor will refer you for screening.

“Mammography for breast cancer screening, and low-dose CT for lung cancer screening are performed in an imaging center; colonoscopy for colorectal cancer screening is performed in a hospital or outpatient setting, or stool testing is performed at home, and PSA testing can be done in the clinic,” said Smith.

If you’re interested in learning more about screening, reach out to the ACS to understand options for cancer screening and timing of screening, and to find providers who may be offering screening in your area.

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