The earlier you detect any cancer, the better your chance of surviving it. Following are things you can do to help detect three of the most common cancers faced by women.

Breast Cancer

Breast cancer kills nearly 40,000 American women each year. To help protect yourself, follow the schedule at the bottom of this page for these breast cancer screenings:

  • Breast self-exam. Do this at home every month. If you notice anything unusual, have your doctor check it out.
  • Mammogram. This is an x-ray of breast tissue.

Colon Cancer

Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death for women - and your risk increases with age. That's why doctors now recommend regular screening for colon cancer beginning at age 50. Here are the tests they use:

  • Stool test. The stool test is done at home. You put a small stool sample on a test card and return it to the doctor or lab.
  • Sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy. With both of these procedures, a doctor puts a thin tube with a light and a camera into your rectum, up into your colon. This allows the doctor to check for - and in some cases, remove - any cancers growing inside.

Cervical Cancer and Other Gynecologic Cancers

All women should be regularly screened with a pelvic exam and a Pap test (Pap smear) according to the schedule below. If you've had a hysterectomy - and never had cervical cancer - you don't need to have Pap tests anymore. But you still need regular pelvic exams.

Recommended Schedule for Cancer Screenings

  To Check for Breast Cancer To Check for Colon Cancer To Check for Cervical Cancer and Other Gynecologic Cancers
Ages
18-39
  • Breast self–exam: monthly
  • Mammogram: as your doctor recommends
  • Stool test, colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy: as your doctor recommends
  • Pelvic exam: every 1 to 3 years
  • Pap test: every 1 to 3 years
Ages
40-49
  • Breast self–exam: monthly
  • Mammogram: every year
  • Stool test, colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy: as your doctor recommends
  • Pelvic exam: every 1 to 3 years
  • Pap test: every 1 to 3 years
Ages
50 and up
  • Breast self–exam: monthly
  • Mammogram: every year
  • Stool test: every year, or
  • Sigmoidoscopy: every 5 years, or
  • Colonoscopy: every 10 years
  • Pelvic exam: every 1 to 3 years
  • Pap test: every 1 to 3 years
Note that your doctor may recommend earlier, more frequent, or less frequent screenings based on your history and health.

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