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Am Fam Physician. 2005;71(11):2202-2205

The American Cancer Society (ACS) has released its annual recommendations for the early detection of cancer. The report was published in the January/February 2005 issue of CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians and is available online at:



Breast cancer screening should begin when women are 20 years of age and should consist of clinical breast examinations, counseling to raise awareness of symptoms, and regular mammography after the age of 39. Clinical breast examinations should take place every three years in women 20 through 39 years of age and annually in women 40 years and older. Women at average risk should begin annual mammography at the age of 40 and should continue the practice as long as they are in good health and would be candidates for breast cancer treatment. The ACS no longer recommends monthly breast self-examinations, but instead recommends that women be informed of the potential limitations, risks, and benefits associated with self-examination. The new guidelines emphasize the physician’s role in raising and reinforcing awareness of breast cancer, early detection, and the importance of timely reporting of any symptoms.


Cervical cancer screening should begin three years after the onset of vaginal intercourse but no later than 21 years of age. Screening should be performed annually until the age of 30 with conventional cervical cytology smears, or every two years until the age of 30 with liquid-based cytology. Women older than 30 years who have had three consecutive normal or negative cytology results may reduce the frequency of screening to every two to three years. Women 70 years and older with an intact cervix may cease cervical cancer screening if they have had three or more consecutive normal or negative cytology results within the 10-year period before the age of 70.

Women with a history of cervical cancer or in utero exposure to diethylstilbestrol should continue annual screening after age 30. Women who are immunocompromised (i.e., organ transplant patients, those receiving chemotherapy, those with human immunodeficiency virus infection) should be tested twice in the first year after diagnosis and annually thereafter as long as they are in good health and would benefit from early detection and treatment.

Cervical cancer screening is not indicated for women who have had a total hysterectomy for benign gynecologic disease. Women with subtotal hysterectomy should follow the recommendations for women at average risk.


Adults at average risk of developing colorectal cancer should begin screening at 50 years of age using one of five options: (1) annual fecal occult blood test or fecal immunochemical test, (2) flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years, (3) annual fecal occult blood test or fecal immunochemical test plus flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years, (4) colonoscopy every 10 years, or (5) double-contrast barium enema every five years.

More intensive surveillance is recommended for patients with a history of adenomatous polyps, a history of curative-intent resection of colorectal cancer, a family history of colorectal cancer or colorectal adenomas diagnosed in a first-degree relative before the age of 60, a history of inflammatory bowel disease of significant duration, or family history of genetic testing indicating one of two hereditary syndromes.


Endometrial cancer screening is not recommended for women at average or somewhat increased risk. However, the ACS recommends that women in these categories be informed of the risks and symptoms of endometrial cancer at the onset of menopause. Women at very high risk of endometrial cancer (i.e., those with known hereditary non-polyposis colon cancer–associated genetic mutation carrier status, substantial likelihood of being a mutation carrier, or absence of genetic testing results in families with suspected autosomal dominant predisposition to colon cancer) should consider annual screening beginning at 35 years of age.


There is insufficient evidence to recommend that men at average risk undergo regular prostate cancer screening. However, the ACS stresses that it is inappropriate not to offer testing or to discourage testing in men who request early prostate cancer detection tests. Prostate-specific antigen test and digital rectal examination should be offered annually beginning at 50 years of age to men who have a life expectancy of at least 10 more years.

Men at high risk (i.e., men of African decent, men with a first-degree relative diagnosed before the age of 65) should begin testing for prostate cancer at the age of 45. Men with more than one first-degree relative diagnosed with prostate cancer before 65 years of age could begin testing at the age of 40.


Testing for early lung cancer detection is not recommended for asymptomatic persons who are at risk. The ACS maintains that patients at risk for lung cancer because of significant exposure to tobacco smoke or occupational exposures may discuss with their physicians the benefits and risks of testing and may decide to undergo testing on an individual basis. Ideally, testing should be done only in experienced centers that are linked to multi disciplinary subspecialty groups. Patients who currently smoke should be informed that the immediate preventive health priority is the elimination of tobacco use.

Coverage of guidelines from other organizations does not imply endorsement by AFP or the AAFP.

This series is coordinated by Michael J. Arnold, MD, Assistant Medical Editor.

A collection of Practice Guidelines published in AFP is available at

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Copyright © 2005 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.

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