Cancer Screening

If you are diagnosed with cancer, it not only affects you, but it also has a detrimental effect on your family and loved ones. Early detection can reduce the intensity of the treatment and the impact it has on yourself and your loved ones. Early detection can also increase the chances for cure with treatment.

Cancer Screening Guidelines

There are national guidelines that you should follow for when you should be screened for cancer. Recent observations suggest that people from a South Asian background may develop cancer at an earlier age than the general population. Early cancer screening should be discussed with your doctor.

What Are the Risk Factors for Cancer?

The following can increase your risk of developing cancer:

  • Age
  • Obesity and lifestyle
  • Exposure to cancer-causing substances (i.e. tobacco, radiation, chemicals, excessive sunlight)
  • Family history
  • Chronic inflammation
  • Hormone levels
  • Weakened immune system
  • Infections (i.e. EBV, Hepatitis B/C, HIV, HPV, H. pylori…)

Breast Cancer Screening

Women over age 40 should discuss screening for breast cancer with your doctor. Screening may begin sooner if you have a strong family history of breast or ovarian cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends the following schedule:

  • Ages 40-44: begin screening mammograms if desired
  • Ages 45-54: get screening mammogram every year
  • Ages 55+: continue screening mammogram every 1-2 years as long as you are in fairly good health

Colon Cancer Screening

Men and women over age 45 should discuss screening for colon cancer with your doctor. Screening may begin earlier if you have a family history of colon cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends the following schedule:

  • Ages 45-75: Get screened with any of the following tests:
    • Sensitive stool-based tests every 1-3 years
    • Colonoscopy at least every 10 years
    • CT colonography (virtual colonoscopy) every 5 years
  • Ages 76-85: discuss with your doctor if you should continue screening based on previous tests and current preferences
  • Ages 85+: screening is no longer necessary

Oral Cancer Screening

Men and women who have a history of tobacco and alcohol use are at risk of developing oral (mouth) and oropharyngeal (mouth and throat) cancer. South Asians who chew betal quid or ‘gutka’ have an increased risk of mouth cancer.

There are no current guidelines for regular screening for oral cancer. However, if you have exposure to any tobacco products and alcohol, you should discuss testing with your doctor. Testing may include some or all of the following:

  • Physical examination of the mouth
  • Complete head and neck exam by a specialist
  • Pharyngoscopy to visualize the area behind the nose
  • Laryngoscopy to visualize the larynx (voice box)
  • Panendoscopy to visualize the areas in the mouth, throat, and esophagus, trachea (wind pipe), and bronchi (in the lungs).

Cervical Cancer Screening

All women should begin screening for cervical cancer at age 21, even if you have already been vaccinated against HPV. The American Cancer Society recommends the following screening schedule:

  • Age 21-29: Pap test every 3 years
  • Age 30-65: Pap test combined with an HPV test every 5 years OR Pap test only every 3 years
  • Age 65+: Stop screening if you have had regular tests for the past 10 years

Lung Cancer Screening

The American Cancer Society recommends annual lung cancer screening with a low-dose CT (LDCT) for certain people at higher risk for lung cancer who meet the following conditions:

  • Age 50-80 years and in fairly good health,
  • Currently smoke or have quit within the last 15 years, and
  • Have at least a 20-pack-year smoking history (i.e. 1 pack per day for 20 years or similar)

Consult your doctor before using any alternative therapies. Sometimes, even “natural” remedies can interact with your prescribed medications. DO NOT stop your medications without discussing with your doctor first!



  1. American Cancer Society
  2. National Cancer Institute
  3. American Association for Cancer Research