Your 20s and 30s: A Physician’s Guide to Cancer Screenings by Age

Submitted by Dr. Nitish Manning on January 14, 2019

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What and When?

Cancer screening recommendations (and the timing of these tests) can be confusing. In a series of posts over the next few weeks, I will take the guesswork out of available (and recommended) cancer prevention screenings-- from your 20s to your 80s--so you can stay on top of your health.

A young couple talking to an oncologist

In your 20s and 30s it’s easy to feel indestructible.  Whether or not you take great care of your health, there are some important cancer screening tests to be aware of.

My recommendations are below.

In Your 20's

Men/women:

  • Colon cancer screening is not indicated, but if you have concerning symptoms or positive family or genetic history, you may want to discuss with your primary care physician about early screening and/or genetic testing.

Women:

  • Cervical cancer screening: get a pap smear every three years starting in your 20s regardless of your sexual activity.
  • Breast cancer screening is not indicated, but if you have concerning symptoms or positive family or genetic history, you may want to discuss with your primary care physician about early screening and/or genetic testing.

In Your 30's

Men/women:

  • Colon cancer screening is not indicated, but if you have concerning symptoms or positive family or genetic history, you may want to discuss with your primary care physician about early screening and/or genetic testing.

Women:

  • Cervical cancer screening: pap smear and co-testing with HPV (preferred) every five years or pap smear alone every three years.  A new alternative for screening to discuss with your primary care physician is a high-risk HPV screening alone every five years.
  • Breast cancer screening is not indicated, but if you have concerning symptoms or positive family or genetic history, you may want to discuss with your primary care physician about early screening and/or genetic testing.

The following cancers do not currently have any specific recommendations or testing for screening. So no matter your age, you should discuss family history with your physician and be very aware of related symptoms:

  • Bladder cancer
  • Oral cancer
  • Ovarian or uterine cancer
    • However, pending positive family or genetic history, you may want to discuss genetic testing with your primary care physician.
  • Pancreatic cancer
    • However, pending positive family or genetic history, you may want to discuss genetic testing with your primary care physician
  • Skin cancer
    • However, an individual with skin findings, positive family history or significant risk factors may want to discuss screening with a primary care physician or dermatologist
  • Testicular cancer
  • Thyroid cancer

These are also great decades for starting healthy habits that can decrease your risk for cancer in the long-term. These behaviors include healthful eating, regular exercise and stress reduction. If you have questions about how to make these positive changes, now is the time to meet with a dietitianexercise trainer or even take time for yourself with a massage.

As always, no matter your age, you should be aware of any changes in your health, as well as undergo an annual check-up from a primary care physician.

This blog post is part one in a three part series. Check out cancer screenings in 40's & 50's and 60's & beyond

Dr. Nitish J. Manning is a member of Currituck Internal Medicine and Family Practice, a part of Chesapeake Regional Medical Group. She earned her medical degree from Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS) in Norfolk, Va., her master’s degree in medical science from the Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia, Pa. and a bachelor’s degree in biology from Richard Stockton State College of New Jersey, Pomona, N.J. She completed her internship and residency at EVMS Ghent Family Medicine and served as the Geriatric Chief resident. Dr. Manning is a member of the American Academy of Family Physicians and the American College of Physicians.