Screening for cancer is when a doctor tests a person for cancer before they have any symptoms. Cancer screenings can help your doctor detect cancer at its earliest stages, and when it comes to something like cancer, the earlier it’s found, the better the prognosis. But how often should seniors be screened for cancer, and what cancer screenings are the most important?
Based on your own personal history and on your family history, your doctor will let you know how often you should be screened for most cancers. Medicare will cover most cancer screenings in seniors. The following cancer screenings are recommended by the American Cancer Society for people ages 65 and older:
Breast Cancer (Women)
It is recommended that senior women get a mammogram every two years. However, if you or a close relative have previously had breast cancer, your doctor may want to screen you for it every year instead of every two years. If you are at a higher risk for breast cancer, your doctor may also want to do additional testing when you get your mammograms. If you notice any lumps, changes in shape or size, swelling, or bloody discharge, don’t wait for your annual screening. Contact your healthcare provider immediately.
Cervical Cancer (Women)
If you have had regular cervical cancer testing with no abnormal results during the past ten years, you do not require any further testing. If you have had a hysterectomy that removed the uterus and cervix, you do not need any further cervical cancer screening unless the hysterectomy was done because of cervical cancer. Women who have had abnormal pap smear results at some point over the past ten years or who have a history of cervical pre-cancer should continue to get tested annually.
Testing for colon cancer in seniors is highly recommended. How often you should get tested is up to your doctor. For folks who do not have a history of colon cancer, screening usually begins at age 50. Your doctor will want to repeat your testing every five to ten years, depending on what your results were during your previous tests. There are several different testing options. Your doctor will discuss each option with you and let you know which tests are the best fit for you, based on any health concerns and on your medical history.
If you currently smoke or have smoked in the past 15 years, your doctor may want to screen you annually to try to detect any early lung cancer signs. If you have a history of lung cancer in your family unrelated to smoking, your doctor may want to screen you annually as well. These annual lung cancer screenings are painless and done using a low-dose CT scan. If you have no history of smoking or lung cancer, you may not need screening, but talk to your doctor anyway.
Prostate Cancer (Men)
Prostate cancer is one of the leading causes of death in men. Prostate cancer can be found early using a simple blood test. If that test comes back positive, further testing is done. Because there is little evidence that the benefits of prostate cancer screening in seniors outweigh the risks of treating some cancers, it is recommended that senior men who are expected to live at least ten more years talk to their doctor about the risks and the benefits of prostate cancer testing.