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Your Guide to Cancer Screenings

Apr 9, 2021 By Michael Richardson

Updated October 5, 2023.

Cancer can be scary. While it may feel like it can come out of nowhere, certain risk factors can help predict which type of cancer screening you can benefit from and when to start. That’s where your primary care provider comes in. Your primary care provider will get to know your personal and family health history to help create an individualized screening plan tailored to your unique needs.

Below are a few of the cancer screenings your primary care provider will perform or order based on your age.

Cervical Cancer Screening: Individuals with a cervix should have a discussion with their provider about starting cervical cancer screening at 21. Cervical cancer screening can be done with a pap test and/or with HPV testing. A pap test is a procedure that involves gathering cells from your cervix (which sits at the top of your vagina, right at the entrance to your uterus) in order to screen for cervical cancer. For individuals at average risk between the ages of 25 and 65, we recommend screening for cervical cancer with HPV (Human Papillomavirus; the main driver of cervical cancer) testing every five years.The frequency of cervical cancer screenings may change, however, depending on your test results so it’s important to work with your provider to develop a testing plan tailored to your personal health needs. If you have had normal cervical cancer screenings the majority of your life, your provider will have a discussion with you about stopping screening around age 65.

Breast Cancer Screening: Individuals with breasts who have no family history or other risk factors for breast cancer should have a discussion with their provider about starting breast cancer screening at age 40. For those at increased risk of breast cancer, it may be worth having a conversation sooner to determine whether earlier or more frequent screening may be beneficial. For individuals at average risk between the ages of 40-74, we recommend having a mammogram, (an x-ray of the breast and the most common way to screen for breast cancer) once every two years. Those older than 74 should talk with their primary care provider to discuss the risks and benefits of breast cancer screening.

Colon Cancer Screening: With research showing increasing rates of colon cancer in younger adults, 45 has been recommended as the new age to begin the discussion about colon cancer screening. Your provider can help connect you with a gastroenterologist who can perform a colonoscopy, or they can provide you with a stool test that will allow you to screen for colon cancer from the comfort of your own home. Adults older than 75 should work with their provider to determine whether to continue colorectal cancer screening, as the benefits of screening can be much smaller after 75 depending on an individuals’s current health and life expectancy.

Prostate Cancer Screening: For individuals with prostates, the choice to perform prostate cancer screening is a difficult one. While prostate cancer screening was previously recommended for all individuals with prostates, a growing body of research shows that screening for prostate cancer may cause more harm than good. That is why primary care doctors will start the discussion about prostate cancer screening at age 55, in which they will help you understand your individualized level of risk and guide you through the potential harms and benefits of prostate cancer screening. Those who are at higher-risk of prostate cancer should consider having these conversations earlier, around 40 or 45.

There can never be a catch-all guide to cancer screening as everyone’s health is unique. Race/ethnicity, family history, body type, lifestyle, and environmental exposures are just some of the unique factors that your primary care provider will consider when making your individualized cancer screening plan. If you ever think you have symptoms of cancer, it's important to speak with your provider right away, as they will help you decide if you should deviate from your initial screening plan and be tested sooner.

At One Medical, cancer prevention is just one of the topics reviewed at our Live Well visits, but our members are encouraged to have the conversation at any time. You can book your appointment today and our team will be happy to assist you in creating your personalized prevention plan.

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Michael Richardson

The One Medical blog is published by One Medical, a national, modern primary care practice pairing 24/7 virtual care services with inviting and convenient in-person care at over 100 locations across the U.S. One Medical is on a mission to transform health care for all through a human-centered, technology-powered approach to caring for people at every stage of life.

Any general advice posted on our blog, website, or app is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace or substitute for any medical or other advice. 1Life Healthcare, Inc. and the One Medical entities make no representations or warranties and expressly disclaim any and all liability concerning any treatment, action by, or effect on any person following the general information offered or provided within or through the blog, website, or app. If you have specific concerns or a situation arises in which you require medical advice, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified medical services provider.