Cancer Screening for Seniors: What Tests to Get and When

Over the years, the rules for cancer screening tests in people who are over the age of 60 have changed as new studies have weighed early detection against screening risks. So every now and then, it’s a good idea to brush up on new updates. Here are the latest cancer screening recommendations for seniors*:

Breast cancer screening. There’s a bit of a dispute among experts about whether people ages 55+ should get mammograms every year or every two years. Talk to your Kansas City doctor about any potential breast cancer risk factors you may have; then together, you can determine how often you should get a mammogram.

Monthly self breast exams are also a good way to detect breast cancer in its early stages. Make an appointment to see your doctor as soon as possible if you feel any lumps or notice any changes in the appearance of your breasts.

Prostate cancer screening. There are two tests that are commonly used to detect prostate cancer: 1) prostate-specific antigen, which is a blood test, and 2) a digital rectal exam, which requires the doctor to check your prostate with his (or her) finger. There are no set guidelines as to often senior males should have either of these tests done. So you’ll need to have a discussion with your doctor about when you might need screening and how often.

Colorectal cancer screening. Beginning at age 50, you should have a fecal occult blood test (stool sample test) every year. You should also have a colonoscopy every 10 years until the age of 75. If you have colon cancer risk factors or you’ve had polyps on previous colonoscopies, your doctor might recommend that you be tested more frequently.

Lung cancer screening. If you’re 55 or older and a current or former smoker, your doctor may recommend low-dose CT scans until you’ve been smoke free for at least 15 year or until the age of 80.

Cervical cancer screening. Current guidelines say you should get a PAP and HPV test every five years, or just a PAP every three years until you’re 65. Again, talk to your doctor to see what’s best for you. After age 65, you shouldn’t need either test if you’ve had normal test results for at least 10 years. You also won’t need screening if you’ve had a hysterectomy, unless it was related to cervical cancer.

Skin cancer screening. If you have moles, check them at least monthly for any changes. Have your skin examined at least annually by your Kansas City dermatologist.

If you need help

If you need help with scheduling, bathing and grooming before your appointments, and/or transportation to and from your screenings, contact a Kansas City home health agency.

*Note: The above screening guidelines are for healthy adults. These tests may not be recommended for people with Alzheimer’s (or other form of dementia) or those who have other serious chronic illnesses.