Early Detection of Cancer

Mammography is the most efficient method for detecting breast cancer early.

Breast Cancer Screening

Mammogram

A mammogram is an X-ray test that produces an image of breast tissue on film. This technique, called mammography, is used to visualize normal and abnormal structures within the breasts. Mammography, therefore, can help in identifying cysts, calcifications, and tumors within the breast. It is currently the most efficient screening method to detect early breast cancer. Physical examinations typically find breast cancers when they are much larger than those detected by mammography.

Mammography can be used to discover a small cancer in a curable stage; however, it is not foolproof.

Quick GuideUnderstanding Cancer: Metastasis, Stages of Cancer, and More

Understanding Cancer: Metastasis, Stages of Cancer, and More

Breast cancer

  • Women ages 40 to 44 should have the choice to start annual breast cancer screening with mammograms (x-rays of the breast) if they wish to do so.
  • Women age 45 to 54 should get mammograms every year.
  • Women 55 and older should switch to mammograms every 2 years, or can continue yearly screening.
  • Screening should continue as long as a woman is in good health and is expected to live 10 more years or longer.
  • All women should be familiar with the known benefits, limitations, and potential harms linked to breast cancer screening. They also should know how their breasts normally look and feel and report any breast changes to a health care provider right away.

Some women -- because of their family history, a genetic tendency, or certain other factors -- should be screened with MRIs along with mammograms. (The number of women who fall into this category is very small.) Talk with a health care provider about your risk for breast cancer and the best screening plan for you.

Colon and rectal cancer and polyps

Starting at age 50, both men and women should follow one of these testing plans:

Tests that find polyps and cancer

Tests that mostly find cancer

* If the test is positive, a colonoscopy should be done.

** The multiple stool take-home test should be used. One test done in the office is not enough. A colonoscopy should be done if the test is positive.

The tests that can find both early cancer and polyps should be your first choice if these tests are available and you're willing to have one of them. Talk to a health care provider about which test is best for you.

If you are at high risk of colon cancer based on family history or other factors, you may need to be screened using a different schedule. Talk with a health care provider about your history and the testing plan that's best for you.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 7/26/2016

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