National Women’s Health Week is May 8-14

National Women’s Health Week and Mother’s Day are perfect opportunites to remind female friends and family members about the importance of talking to their doctor about getting tested for cancer. Early detection is the best way for women to stay well and celebrate more birthdays.

Mammography can detect breast cancer at an early stage when treatment may be more effective. Mammography x-rays are quick, easy, and safe. In fact, mammograms use less radiation than a dentist’s x-ray. Recent evidence has confirmed that mammograms offer substantial benefit for women starting in their 40s. Women can feel confident about the benefits associated with regular mammograms for finding cancer early.  Often a woman and her doctor may not feel a lump until it is the size of a pea. But a mammogram can find cancers when they are very small, often several years before a lump or change can be felt. As women grow older, their chances of having breast cancer will increase. Almost half of all breast cancer occurs in women 65 and older; more than three-quarters of them occur in women 50 and older.

According to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 207,090 new cases of invasive breast cancer occurred among women in 2010, and approximately 40,230 deaths were expected. Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer for all women regardless of race. In 2010, 26,840 African American women and 14,200 Hispanic women were expected to be diagnosed with breast cancer. African American women have the highest death rates from breast cancer. Although the incidence rate for Hispanic women is lower, breast cancer is the most common cause of cancer death for Hispanic women due to a lack of early detection. 

Another disease women should talk with their doctor about is cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is one of only two cancers (colorectal is the other) that can actually be prevented through screening. An estimated 12,200 cases of invasive cervical cancer were expected in 2010. Incidence rates have decreased steadily over the past several decades. As Pap screening has become more common, pre-invasive lesions of the cervix are detected far more frequently than invasive cancer. As a result, mortality rates have declined steadily due to prevention and early detection.

Numerous studies have shown that early detection saves lives and increases treatment options. The following Society guidelines are for the early detection of cancer for people without symptoms. Some people are at higher risk for certain cancers and may need to have tests more frequently. Talk with your health care professional to find out how these guidelines relate to you.

Cancer-related Checkup for Women

This exam should include health counseling and depending on a person’s age, might include examinations for cancers of the thyroid, oral cavity, skin, lymph nodes, and ovaries, as well as for some nonmalignant diseases.


Ÿ         Women age 40 and older should have an annual mammogram and clinical breast exam (CBE) performed by a health care professional during a periodic health exam. Women in their 20s and 30s should have a CBE about every three years. Breast self-exam is an option for women starting in their 20s. Any changes that are detected should be immediately reported to a health care professional.

Ÿ         Women at increased risk (family history, genetic tendency, past breast cancer) should consult their doctor about the benefits and limitations of starting mammography screening earlier, having additional tests, or having more frequent exams.

Ÿ         Women should report any breast changes promptly to their health care providers.

Ÿ         Screening MRI is recommended for women with an approximatley 20-25 percent or greater lifetime risk of breast cancer, including women with a strong family history of breast or ovarian cancer and women who were treated for Hodgkin disease.


Ÿ         Cervix — Annual testing with regular Pap tests or every two years using liquid-based tests should start approximately three years after a woman begins having vaginal intercourse, but no later than 21 years of age. At or after age 30, women with three or more consecutive normal test results, may get screened every two to three years. Cervical cancer screening with HPV DNA testing and conventional or liquid-based cytology could be performed every three years.

Alternatively, cervical cancer testing with HPV DNA testing and conventional or liquid-based cytology could be performed every three years. Doctors may suggest regular screenings if a woman has certain risk factors, such as HIV infection or a weak immune system. Women age 70 and older who have had three or more consecutive normal Pap tests in the last 10 years may choose to stop cervical cancer testing. Testing after total hysterectomy (with removal of the cervix) is not necessary unless the surgery was done as a treatment for cervical cancer.

Ÿ        Endometrium — Beginning at age 35, women with or at high risk for hereditary non- polyposis colon cancer should be offered endometrial biopsy annually to screen for endometrial cancer. At the time of menopause all women should be informed about the risks and symptoms of endometrial cancer and strongly encouraged to report any unexpected bleeding or spotting to their physicians.

Colon & Rectum

Beginning at age 50, women should follow one of the examination schedules below:

Tests That Detect Adenomatous Polyps and Cancer

  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5 years, or
  • Colonoscopy every 10 years, or
  • Double contrast barium enema (DCBE) every 5 years, or
  • CT colonography (CTC) every 5 year


Tests That Primarily Detect Cancer

  • Annual guaiac-based fecal occult blood test (gFOBT) with high test sensitivity for cancer, or
  • Annual fecal immunochemical test (FIT) with high test sensitivity for cancer, or
  • Stool DNA test (sDNA), with high sensitivity for cancer, interval uncertain.

People at moderate or high risk for colon cancer should talk with their doctor about a different testing schedule.

Because of their greater potential to prevent cancer, the tests that have a higher likelihood of finding both polyps and cancer are preferred if patients are willing to use them and have access to these tests.                                                                                                                                               

For more information on cancer prevention and early detection, contact your American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345 or visit