A comprehensive guide to cancer screenings

William N. Pennington Cancer Institute at Renown Health

The Pennington Cancer Institute offers a variety of breast health services.

One of the most crucial aspects of maintaining health and wellness is staying proactive about regular cancer screenings. Early cancer detection significantly increases the chances of successful treatment and survival. The multidisciplinary care team at the William N. Pennington Cancer Institute at Renown Health provides compassionate care and support to the community for early detection and diagnoses. This comprehensive guide outlines the various screenings available for breast, colorectal, lung, cervical, prostate and skin cancers.

Dr. Michelle Chu provides breast surgical oncology care and other breast health services at the Pennington Cancer Institute at Renown Health.

Breast cancer screening

Who should get screened:

  • Mammograms are recommended starting age 40 for those considered at average risk for breast cancer.
  • Women with a family history or other risk factors should discuss appropriate screening options with their healthcare provider.
  • Women under 40 with a family history should discuss risk factors with a healthcare provider.

Screening methods:

  • Mammogram: This provides an X-ray of the breast and can detect tumors that are not yet palpable.
  • Breast MRI: This type of scan is recommended for women at high risk for breast cancer due to genetic factors or family history.
  • Screening breast ultrasound: This scan can help in identifying masses in denser breast tissue that might not be visible on mammogram. It is recommended in addition to a mammogram for patients at a higher risk for breast cancer.

What to expect:

During a mammogram, the breast is compressed between two plates to capture X-ray images. Some pressure or discomfort may be felt, but the procedure is brief and critical for early detection.

Colorectal cancer screening

Who should get screened:

  • Adults ages 45 to 75 should undergo regular colorectal screenings.
  • Some adults under 45 may need to be screened earlier depending on family history or other genetic risks.
  • Those over 75 should consult with their healthcare provider to determine if continued screening is necessary.

Screening methods:

  • Colonoscopy: This procedure uses a flexible tube with a camera to examine the entire colon.
  • Fecal immunochemical test (FIT): A non-invasive test that detects hidden blood in the stool.
  • CT colonography (virtual colonoscopy): Uses computed tomography (CT) imaging to provide detailed views of the colon.

What to expect:

A colonoscopy can detect changes or abnormalities in the large intestine (colon) and rectum. Screening is usually advised every 10 years, but if a person is at risk, screening may be recommended every three to five years after the initial colonoscopy.

Colonoscopy preparation includes bowel cleansing the day before and sedation during the procedure. FIT is a simple at-home test requiring no special preparation.

Lung cancer screening

Who should get screened:

  • Adults ages 50 to 80 with a significant smoking history (20 pack/years or more) and who currently smoke or have quit within the past 15 years.

Screening method:

  • Low-dose computed tomography (LDCT): A CT scan with low radiation doses to create detailed images of the lungs.

What to expect:

LDCT is a non-invasive scan that requires patients to hold their breath for a few seconds.

Cervical cancer screening

Who should get screened:

  • Women ages 21 to 65 should undergo regular screenings.
  • Women ages 21 to 29 should have a Pap test every three years.
  • Women ages 30 to 65 should have a Pap test and HPV test every five years, or a Pap test alone every three years.

Screening Methods:

  • Pap test (sometimes called a Pap smear): Collects cells from the cervix to detect precancers.
  • HPV Test: Identifies high-risk human papillomavirus (HPV) types that can cause cervical cancer.

What to expect:

The Pap test involves collecting cells from the cervix using a small brush. Some discomfort may be felt, but the procedure is brief and crucial for early detection.

Prostate cancer screening

Who should get screened:

  • Men ages 50 and older should discuss screening options with their healthcare provider.
  • Men at higher risk (African American men and those with a family history of prostate cancer or are a BRCA2 gene carrier) should begin discussing screenings at age 40.

Screening methods:

  • Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test: Measures PSA levels in the blood.
  • Digital rectal exam (DRE): A physical examination where the provider feels the prostate through the rectum to detect abnormalities.

What to expect:

The PSA test is a simple blood test. The DRE may cause slight discomfort but is quick and essential for early detection.

Skin cancer screening

Who should get screened:

  • Anyone with a suspicious lesion or abnormal area on their skin.
  • Individuals with more than 50 moles or dysplastic moles.
  • Those with a personal history of melanoma or history of other skin cancers.
  • Those who have more than one member of immediate family with a history of cancers (melanoma, breast cancer, pancreatic cancer) or a family member who was diagnosed with melanoma before they were 50 years old.
  • Positive gene testing for BRACA2, Lynch syndrome genes (MLH1, MSH2, MSH6, PMS2 or EPCAM).

Screening methods:

  • Skin exam: A visual examination by a provider to check for unusual moles, birthmarks or other skin changes.
  • Biopsy: Removal of a small sample of skin for testing if an abnormal area is identified.

What to expect:

A skin exam is non-invasive and visual. A biopsy involves minor discomfort and local anesthesia if needed.

Expert advice:

Although the cadence of these skin screenings may or may not be annual. As people age, the risk of many cancers increases. Everyone benefits from attentive sun protection, including avoiding direct sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. by seeking shade and wearing hats, clothing and sunscreen. When purchasing sunscreen, look for SPF 50, UVA/UVB broad spectrum.

Importance of cancer screenings

Regular cancer screenings are vital for maintaining health and catching cancer early when it is most treatable. Renown Health is dedicated to guiding patients through the process and providing the highest quality of care. Consult with a healthcare provider to determine the appropriate screenings for your specific needs and to take proactive steps toward a healthier future.

Renown Health is the largest locally governed, not-for-profit healthcare network in northern Nevada. It is home to the nationally acclaimed William N. Pennington Cancer Institute, which provides the region with top-tier cancer care.

The Pennington Cancer Institute at Renown offers a patient-centered approach to cancer care. Its team of specialists and support staff are well-equipped in the fight against cancer through leading-edge advancements in medical treatment, clinical research trials, and state-of-the-art technology. Renown’s care teams offer various cancer support services and resources to help patients every step of the way through their journey.


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