Not all cancers are created equal. And not all cancer screening is equally effective at saving lives. For example, some doctors order ovarian cancer screening. But the tests used to help spot ovarian cancer often cause false alarms, increase costs, and lead to unnecessary procedures –without saving lives.1

Other types of screening, such as for cervical or colon cancers, are much more helpful at preventing cancer or finding it earlyand reducing deaths. Here’s what you need to know about new screening guidelines for these two cancers.

Cervical cancer. In the past few decades, screening has helped reduce deaths from cervical cancer. Researchers have learned a great deal about the best ways to screen for this type of cancer. As a result, the American Cancer Society (ACS) revised its guidelines. One of the big changes in the screening guidelines has to do with how often to get a Pap test.2

The ACS included guidelines for both the Pap test and HPV (human papilloma virus) test.  The Pap test can find early cell changes or cancer. The HPV test finds certain infections that can lead to cell changes and cancer.

According to the new guidelines, cervical screening for women should begin at age 21, even if you have had the HPV vaccine. The ACS recommends:

  • Ages 21–29: A Pap test every 3 years.
  • Ages 30–65: A Pap test and HPV test every 5 yearsor a Pap test every 3 years.
  • Ages 65 and older: No screening if regular screenings have produced normal results, but continued screening if you have been diagnosed with cervical pre-cancer.2

You may need to be screened more often if you are at high risk for cervical cancer. You don’t need screening at all if you have had your uterus and cervix removed and have no history of cervical cancer or pre-cancer.2

Colon cancer. In the U.S., colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths.  Recent studies show that screening prevents colorectal cancers. It also cuts deaths from the disease. Still, only 6 in 10 adults 50 and older get screened.3

New guidelines from the American College of Physicians (ACP) now focus on each person’s individual risk.

  • People of average risk: Screening should start at age 50. This includes stool sample tests or insertion of a narrow tube with a camera into the rectum (optical colonoscopy or flexible sigmoidoscopy).
  • People at high risk (with inflammatory bowel disease or a personal or family history of colorectal cancer): Screening should start at age 40 or earlier. People at high risk should have optical colonoscopy. This is the most sensitive test.
  • People who are over 75 or have a life expectancy of less than 10 years do not need screening.3

As always, you are welcome to alk to our pharmacist with any questions and concerns you may have.

Nothing herein constitutes medical advice, diagnosis or treatment, or is a substitute for professional advice.  You should always seek the advice of your physician or other medical professional if you have questions or concerns about a medical condition.


1.                 MedlinePlus: “Ovarian cancer screening popular despite guidelines.” Available at: Accessed March 23, 2012.

2.                 ACS: “New Screening Guidelines for Cervical Cancer.” Available at: Accessed March 23, 2012.

3.                 HealthDay: “New Colon Cancer Screening Guidelines Focus on Individual Risk.” Available at: Accessed March 23, 2012.

Recent Posts