What Cancers Can You Be Screened for and When?

New Brunswick, N.J., February 1, 2024 – Cancer screenings are medical tests done when you are healthy, with no signs of illness. They help find cancer early, when the chances for successfully treating the disease are highest. Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey together with RWJBarnabas Health recommends following the guidelines below for screening for certain cancers.

Colorectal cancer screening is used to detect cancer and remove precancerous polyps. 

  • The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends beginning colorectal cancer screening at age 45
  • With a colonoscopy, the rectum and entire colon are examined using a colonoscope, a flexible lighted tube with a lens for viewing and a tool for removing tissue. If your doctor finds polyps, they are removed and sent to a lab for further testing
  • With a sigmoidoscopy, the rectum and sigmoid colon are examined using a sigmoidoscope, a flexible lighted tube with a lens for viewing and a tool for removing tissue

The most effective screening tool for breast cancer is a mammogram, which uses low dose X-rays to create images of the breast.

  • The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends women be screened every other year starting at age 40
  • Women 45 to 54 should have a mammogram every year.
  • Regardless of age, women with a family history of breast cancer or are at high risk due to other factors may be recommended to have a mammogram more often. Discuss breast cancer screening recommendations with your doctor for your personal situation. 

Nearly all cervical cancer cases are due to a viral infection known as HPV (human papillomavirus). Certain types of HPV can cause pre-cancerous cells and if left untreated can cause cervical cancer. 

  • An effective vaccine is available to prevent infection caused by certain strains of HPV 
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends children receive two doses of the HPV vaccine at age 11 or12, although it can be started at age 9  
  • Regular Pap tests and testing for HPV can detect precancerous changes that occur in cells and can eventually become cervical cancer. Women between the ages of 21 and 65 are typically screened, but the frequency varies depending on age and other factors

Lung cancer screening is recommended only for adults at high risk. 

  • The American Cancer Society recommends yearly screening for lung cancer with a low-dose CT (LDCT) scan for people aged 50 to 80 years who smoke or used to smoke, or have at least a 20 pack-year history of smoking
  • A low-dose CT scan is a special kind of X-ray that takes multiple pictures as you lie on a table that slides in and out of the machine. A computer then combines these images into a detailed picture of your lungs
  • A pack-year is equal to smoking 1 pack (or about 20 cigarettes) per day for a year

Make cancer screening part of your lifestyle for prevention. Resources available through Rutgers Cancer Institute and RWJBarnabas Health, the state’s leading cancer program and only National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center and ScreenNJ describe risk factors and other information that can be useful in speaking to a health care provider about a screening schedule. For more information, visit our Cancer Prevention and Screening Resource Center. 

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