×

Well Ahead Blog

Back to Well Ahead Blog

Quiz: Do you know when to get these cancer screenings?

April 22, 2022 Cancer

When to get common cancer screenings

What if you could stop cancer right in its tracks? With regular screenings, you might be able to.

Cancer is typically easier to treat when it's caught in its early stages. And thanks to amazing researchers and advancements in technology, there are now many screening tools at our disposal that can detect even the earliest signs of cancer.

You've probably heard of a lot of these screenings, like colonoscopies and mammograms. But do you know when you should actually be having them?

Take this quiz to learn which tests you should be scheduling.


1. About 60% of colorectal cancer deaths could be prevented with regular screening. For people at average risk* for colorectal cancer, regular screening should begin at age:

  1. 35
  2. 40
  3. 45
  4. 50

* "Average" risk means that you do not have:

  • A personal or family history of colorectal cancer
  • A personal or family history of ovarian, uterine, gastric, or breast cancer
  • A personal history of certain types of polyps or inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis)
  • A personal history of receiving radiation to your pelvic area or abdomen (belly) as treatment for another cancer
  • A hereditary colorectal cancer syndrome (a syndrome due to changes in certain genes that increases the risk of developing colorectal cancer, like Lynch syndrome or familiar adenomatous polyposis)

ANSWER: C (45)

If you could have sworn the answer was 50, you're not off track — up until just a few years ago, that was the recommendation. However, with colorectal cancer on the rise in young adults, the American Cancer Society changed their guidance and lowered the age to 45.

At Main Line Health, we recommend that people at average risk for developing colorectal cancer start screening at age 45 and continue through age 75.

If you are at high risk for developing colorectal cancer, your physician may recommend starting regular colonoscopies earlier or continuing them for a few more years. It is not recommended that anyone over age 85 should be screened for colorectal cancer.

To discuss colorectal cancer screening options or to schedule an appointment with a Main Line Health colorectal or gastroenterology specialist, call 1.866.CALL.MLH (225.5654) or use our secure online appointment request form.



2. One of the most common screenings is a colonoscopy, which is a procedure that allows a physician to look closely at the lining and contents of your large intestine (colon). If there are no abnormalities or concerns after your first colonoscopy, how often should you get one?

  1. Every year
  2. Every 3 years
  3. Every 5 years
  4. Every 10 years

ANSWER: D (Every 10 years)

As long as there are no abnormalities or concerns after your first colonoscopy, you only need to get another one every 10 years.

However, if you are at high risk for developing colorectal cancer or new digestive issues come up that need monitoring, your physician may recommend having them more frequently.

To discuss colorectal cancer screening options or to schedule an appointment with a Main Line Health colorectal or gastroenterology specialist, call 1.866.CALL.MLH (225.5654) or use our secure online appointment request form.



3. Mammograms are the most accurate screening test we have for breast cancer. At what age should women at average risk* of developing breast cancer have regular mammograms?

  1. Before age 18
  2. Between 18 and 39
  3. After age 40
  4. After age 75

* "Average" risk means that you do not have:

  • An abnormal breast cancer gene
  • A personal history of breast cancer
  • A first-degree relative (mother, daughter, or sister) who has a history of breast or ovarian cancer
  • A history of receiving radiation to your chest or breasts before age 30

ANSWER: C (After age 40)

Technically, there isn't one correct answer. There is some disagreement among the medical community, with major organizations — like the American Cancer Society, the American College of Radiology, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) — having slightly differing opinions.

At the end of the day, most organizations agree that women should start regular mammograms between ages 40 to 50.

At Main Line Health, we recommend that women begin having yearly mammograms at age 40. However, if you are at high-risk for breast cancer, your physician might recommend starting regular mammograms a bit earlier.

As to when to stop screenings? Most guidelines recommend stopping after age 75. However, these guidelines are based on early studies performed at a time when life expectancy was lower than it is now. Here at Main Line Health, we perform mammograms on patients older than 75, so we wouldn't recommend stopping your regular mammograms without talking to your provider, first.

Main Line Health offers 3D mammography, the most advanced technology for breast cancer screening, which provides a clear picture and allows physicians to pinpoint the shape, size and location of breast abnormalities.

First, you will need a prescription for a mammogram from your doctor. You can then schedule your appointment online or 484.580.1800.



4. If you do regular self-exams on your breasts, should you still have mammograms?

  1. No, a self-exam is enough.
  2. Only if you find a lump during your self-exam.
  3. Yes, self-exams are not always reliable.

ANSWER: C (Yes, self-exams are not always reliable)

Nothing beats a mammogram.

Mammograms can find signs of breast cancer in its earliest stages — before a lump can be seen or felt, or before cancer symptoms begin.

At the same time, it's still very important to have breast awareness. Make sure you know how your breasts feel and look so that if you notice any abnormalities, you can talk to your physician right away.

Main Line Health offers 3D mammography, the most advanced technology for breast cancer screening, which provides a clear picture that allows physicians to pinpoint the shape, size and location of breast abnormalities.

To schedule a mammography appointment at Main Line Health, 484.580.1800 or use our secure online appointment request form. You will need a prescription from your primary care physician before you schedule your appointment.



5. When should someone with a prostate begin prostate cancer screenings?

  1. 18
  2. 45
  3. Never — it's not good for your health.
  4. There isn't one particular age, but they should start considering screening between ages 40 and 70.

ANSWER: D (There isn't one particular age, but they should start considering screening between ages 40 and 70.)

There has been controversy in the medical community about prostate cancer screenings. While they are not bad for your health, they may be unnecessary for some people — and could cause worry and anxiety for no reason.

That being said, many people do benefit from prostate cancer screening. At Main Line Health, we recommend that anyone with a prostate seriously consider screening between ages 55 and 70. If you are Black, you should start sooner. Since Black people are more likely to be diagnosed at a younger age and to have more severe prostate cancer, recommendations range from 40 to 45 for a starting age.

If you do choose to get screened, how often you need screenings will depend on the results of your first one.

Talk to your primary care provider about if this screening is right for you or if this is one you can hold off on. To schedule an appointment with a primary care provider at Main Line Health, call 1.866.CALL.MLH (225.5654) or use our secure online appointment request form.



6. Low-dose CT scans are the only reliable screening for lung cancer in its earliest, easiest-to-treat stages — and getting a scan can reduce lung cancer risk by up to 20% in high-risk patients.

Which of these smokers would be eligible for a scan?

  1. Susie. She is 60 years old, quit smoking last year (having smoked two packs a day for the past 10 years), and isn't showing any signs or symptoms of lung cancer.
  2. Ryan. He is 28 years old, is a current smoker, and has been smoking since age 25.
  3. Jordan. They are 55 years old and they quit smoking 30 years ago.
  4. Chris. He is 70 years old, is a current smoker, and has begun showing symptoms of lung cancer (a cough that won't go away and chest pain that gets worse when he laughs or coughs).

ANSWER: A (Susie. She is 60 years old, quit smoking last year (having smoked two packs a day for the past 10 years), and isn't showing any signs or symptoms of lung cancer.)

Not everyone will benefit from a low-dose CT scan (LDCT). LDCTs are designed specifically for smokers (or those with a recent history of smoking) who are not currently showing any signs or symptoms of lung cancer. If you already have symptoms, the cancer is farther along — meaning you need other types of tests that are designed to actually diagnose cancer, not just screen for early signs.

In addition to not having any symptoms, you must meet all of the three criteria in order to be eligible for — and benefit from — the LDCT:

  • Be between ages 50 and 80
  • Smoke currently or quit within the last 15 years
  • Have a 20 pack-year or more smoking history (a 20 pack-year means smoking an average of one pack a day for a year. You could have a 20 pack-year if you smoked one pack per day for 20 years or if you smoked two packs a day for 10 years)

If you are on Medicare insurance, you will also need an order from your physician.

Once you have your prescription for lung cancer screening, call call 484.565.LUNG (484.565.5864) to speak to a lung health navigator who will ask you additional questions and schedule a screening for you.

Don't have a prescription yet? To schedule an appointment with a primary care provider who can help you take the next steps for lung cancer screening at Main Line Health, call 1.866.CALL.MLH (225.5654) or use our secure online appointment request form.



7. Once someone is eligible for lung cancer screening, how often should they be screened?

  1. Every 6 months
  2. Once a year
  3. Every 5 years
  4. Just once is fine

ANSWER: B (Once a year)

If you are eligible for lung cancer screening, it's recommended that you get screened on a yearly basis. However, you won't necessarily need to be screened for the rest of your life. Regular screenings may stop when someone:

  • Turns 81
  • Hasn't smoked in at least 15 years
  • Develops a different health problem that would make them either unable or willing to have surgery if the screening did detect lung cancer

Once you have your prescription for lung cancer screening, call call 484.565.LUNG (484.565.5864) to speak to a lung health navigator who will ask you additional questions and schedule a screening for you.

Don't have a prescription yet? To schedule an appointment with a primary care provider who can help you take the next steps for lung cancer screening at Main Line Health, call 1.866.CALL.MLH (225.5654) or use our secure online appointment request form.



8. Pap smears check for changes to cells in the cervix that could become cancerous if left untreated. Since Pap smears were introduced in the 1940s, the incidence of cervical cancer has decreased dramatically — by 70%.

When should a person with a cervix get their first Pap smear to test for cervical cancer?

  1. Within a year of her first menstrual period
  2. At age 40
  3. At age 21
  4. They never have to if they've never been sexually active

ANSWER: C (At age 21)

Starting at age 21, anyone with a cervix should receive regular Pap smears. "Regular" doesn't necessarily mean every year — depending on the results of the most recent test, your physician may decide that you only need one every three years.

It's important to get a Pap smear even if you are not sexually active. While most cervical cancers are caused by the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV), there are rare cases where HPV is not the culprit. A Pap smear can find cell changes and detect abnormalities regardless of whether they stemmed from HPV.

Once you've turned 65, or if you have had a hysterectomy, talk to your physician about whether you need to keep up with regular Pap smears.

To schedule an appointment with a gynecologic specialist at Main Line Health, call 1.866.CALL.MLH (225.5654) or use our secure online appointment request form.



9. The HPV test looks for the human papillomavirus — the virus that can lead to those potentially cancerous cell changes. It's often performed at the same time as a Pap smear.

People of any age who have abnormal Pap smears should receive an HPV test. But even with normal Pap smear results, in which age group should someone with a cervix still have regular HPV tests?

  1. 18 - 29
  2. 30 - 65
  3. 66 - 75
  4. This is a trick question — age doesn't matter. As soon as you have been sexually active, you should get an HPV test.

ANSWER: B (30 - 65)

If you are between the ages of 30 and 65, you should get tested for HPV — even if you've never had an abnormal Pap smear.

HPV tests are generally performed along with the Pap smear, which is called co-testing. If both results are normal, your physician may give you the go-ahead to wait five years until your next HPV test. However, in those five years, you still need to keep up with your Pap smears (every one to three years, depending on your provider's recommendation).

In general, it's not recommended that people younger than 30 get tested for HPV if they have had normal Pap smear results. HPV infections in this age group are very common, but most of them clear up without treatment and do not become cancerous.

(Tip from Main Line Health providers: HPV prevention works even better if you combine screening with getting vaccinated!)

To schedule an appointment with a gynecologic specialist at Main Line Health, call 1.866.CALL.MLH (225.5654) or use our secure online appointment request form.


Remember — everyone is a little different. These might be the general recommendations, but your physician may want you to get screened earlier, later, or more frequently, depending on your health and medical history. Keep up with your annual physical with your primary care provider, and talk to your provider about which screenings tests are right for you.

Main Line Health Cancer Care provides compassionate care through all stages of cancer treatment, from diagnosis through survivorship, for patients throughout the Philadelphia region and beyond. To schedule an appointment with a cancer specialist at Main Line Health, 1.866.CALL.MLH (225.5654) or request an appointment online.