Benjamin Franklin once said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. That is especially true in regards to mammograms and pap smears. Breast and cervical cancer are easier to treat when they are detected early. Mammograms and Pap smears can spot cancer before any other symptoms have developed. The American Cancer Society recommends the following screening guidelines for the early detection of breast and cervical cancer.
For Breast Cancer:
Yearly mammograms are recommended starting at age 40 and continuing for as long as a woman is in good health. A clinical breast exam (CBE) about every 3 years for women in their 20s and 30s and every year for women 40 and over. Women should know how their breasts normally look and feel and report any breast change promptly to their health care provider. Breast self-exams (BSE) are an option for women starting in their 20s.
Because of genetic tendency, family history, or certain other factors, some women should be screened with MRI in addition to mammograms (the number of women who fall into this category is small: less than 2% of all the women in the US). Talk with your doctor about your history and whether you should have additional tests at an earlier age.
For Cervical Cancer:
Cervical cancer screening tests should begin at age 21. Women under age 21 should not be tested. Women between ages 21 and 29 should have a Pap test every 3 years. A test called the HPV test is now available. HPV testing should not be used in this age group unless it is needed after an abnormal Pap test result. Women between the ages of 30 and 65 should have a Pap test plus an HPV test (called “co-testing”) every 5 years. This is the preferred approach, but it is also OK to have a Pap test alone every 3 years.
Women over age 65 who have had regular cervical cancer testing with normal results should not be tested for cervical cancer. Once testing is stopped, it should not be started again. Women with a history of a serious cervical pre-cancer should continue to be tested for at least 20 years after that diagnosis, even if testing continues past age 65.
A woman who has had both her uterus and her cervix removed, for reasons not related to cervical cancer and who has no history of cervical cancer or serious pre-cancer, should not be tested. A woman who has been vaccinated against HPV should still follow the screening recommendations for her age group. Some women – because of their health history – may need to have a different screening schedule for cervical cancer.