Return to Index
Cancer Tests That Can Save Your Life
- Breast self-exam (BSE)—This is an option for women beginning in their 20s. This is a step-by-step examination of your breasts that you do yourself. It is one tool that can be used to help detect changes in your breasts that may or may not be a sign of cancer. You should understand that the self-exam has limits, benefits, and potential harms. You should discuss this with your doctor and decide if doing regular breast self-exams are right for you. In general, you should be familiar with how your breasts look and feel, and report any changes or anything abnormal to your doctor.
- Clinical breast exam (CBE)—During this exam, the doctor checks for suspicious lumps or other changes in your breasts. If you are in your 20s or 30s, you should have a CBE at least every three years. If you are aged 40 or older, you should have CBE every year.
- Mammograms —This exam uses low-dose x-rays to make a picture of your breast tissue. The ACS recommends having a mammogram every year starting at age 40. You can continue to have this exam yearly if you are in good health. Due to family history, genetics, or other factors, some women may also want to have an MRI in addition to mammograms. Your doctor can help you decide if additional screening is recommended for you.
- If you are aged 21-29 years—It is recommended that you have the Pap test every three years.
- If you are aged 30-65—It is recommended that you have the Pap test along with the human papillomavirus (HPV) test every five years. (Or, you can continue to have just the Pap test every three years.)
- If you are aged 65 or older—You may be able to stop having Pap and HPV tests if you have had normal results . Normal results include three normal results in a row and no abnormal results in the past 10 years.
Endometrial (Uterine) Cancer
- Use a full-length mirror or hand-held mirror to check hard to spot places, such as between the buttocks or in the genital area.
- Do the exam in a well-lit room.
- Turn from front to back and left to right.
- Note the size, shape, color, and texture of all skin blemishes and moles.
- Check your fingernails, palms, and forearms.
- Check your feet, toenails, soles, and between the toes.
- Examine your scalp, separating the hair with a comb or a blow dryer.
Tests to find polyps and cancer:
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy (every 5 years)—a visual exam of the rectum and lower portion of the colon
- Colonoscopy (every 10 years)—a visual exam of the rectum and colon
- Double-contrast barium enema (every 5 years)—a test that involves inserting barium (a milky fluid), and then having x-rays done of the intestines
- CT colonography (every 5 years)—a radiology test that looks at the colon
Other tests that may be used to find cancer:
- Fecal occult blood (every year)—a test to detect the presence of blood in the stool
- Fecal immunochemical test (every year)—another test to detect the presence of blood in the stool
- Stool DNA test (no specified schedule)—a test to identify DNA markers that may signify the presence of polyps or cancer
American Cancer Society http://www.cancer.org
National Cancer Institute http://www.cancer.gov
BC Cancer Agency http://www.bccancer.bc.ca
Canadian Cancer Society http://www.cancer.ca
American Cancer Society guidelines for the early detection of cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/docroot/PED/content/PED%5F2%5F3X%5FACS%5FCancer%5FDetection%5FGuidelines%5F36.asp?sitearea=PED. Accessed March 31, 2014.
Breast cancer screening. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated March 14, 2014. Accessed March 31, 2014.
Cervical cancer screening. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated March 11, 2014. Accessed March 31, 2014.
Colorectal cancer screening. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated March 24, 2014. Accessed March 31, 2014.
Estimated new cancer cases and deaths by sex, US, 2014. American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/content/@research/documents/document/acspc-041780.pdf. Accessed March 31, 2014.
Friedman J. Cancer screening in premenopausal women. Family Practice Recertification. 2002;24:53-61.
Prevention Checklist for Women. American Cancer Society website. Available at http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/content/@nho/documents/webcontent/cancerpreventionandearlydetect.pdf. Updated April 14, 2010. Accessed March 31, 2014.
Siegel R, Desantis C, et al. Colorectal cancer statistics, 2014. CA Cancer J Clin. 2014;64(2):104-117.
Step by step self-exam. Skin Cancer website. Available at: http://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/early-detection/step-by-step-self-examination. Accessed March 31, 2014.
Ovarian cancer screening. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated March 4, 2014. Accessed March 31, 2014.
Vick T. Routine screening for cervical, breast and colorectal cancers. The Female Patient. 2002;27(suppl):20–24.
What are the key statistics about breast cancer? American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/cancer/breastcancer/detailedguide/breast-cancer-key-statistics. Updated January 31, 2014. Accessed March 31, 2014.
3/19/2012 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Saslow D, Soloman D, et al. American Cancer Society, American Society for Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology, and American Society for Clinical Pathology screening guidelines for the prevention and early detection of cervical cancer. CA Cancer J Clin. 2012. 62(3):147-172.
- Reviewer: Michael Woods, MD
- Review Date: 04/2014
- Update Date: 03/31/2014