Cancer Screening and Early Detection

Some types of cancer can be found before they cause symptoms. Checking for cancer (or for conditions that may lead to cancer) in people who have no symptoms is called screening. Screening can help doctors find and treat some types of cancer early. Generally, cancer treatment is more effective when the disease is found early.

It may help to ask your doctor the following questions about screening:

  • Which tests do you recommend for me and why?
  • How much do the tests cost? Will my health insurance help pay for screening tests?
  • Do the tests hurt? Are there any risks?
  • How soon after the tests will I learn the results?
  • If the results show a problem, what is the next step?

Look through these tabs to learn what screenings are recommended for cancers of the breast, colon, skin, lungs, and cervix. If you have questions about screening for cancer in another area of the body, talk with your doctor.

Visit the National Cancer Institute for more information about tests to detect cancer.

This provides a brief overview of cancer screening for the general public. People with a family or personal history of cancer, or with concerns about their risk of cancer, should discuss individual cancer screening recommendations with their doctor. 

Breast Cancer Screening

breast screening cardMammogram
Ages 40 and up: Every year

Some women may need to have a mammogram before they are 40. Check with your health care provider to find out when mammography is right for you. During this test, you stand in front of a special breast imaging machine. Each breast is flattened between two plates. It may be a little uncomfortable, but it only takes a few moments. This test finds lumps in your breast that may be too small to feel by hand.

To schedule a mammogram at Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI), call 801-581-5496. Learn more about mammography at HCI in this video:



Breast Exam by Your Health Care Provider

  • Ages 20-39: Every 2-3 years
  • Ages 40 and up: Every year
Breast Self-Exam
Ages 20 and up: Monthly
  • Check your breasts for any changes in shape, size, or appearance. The best time to do a self-exam is two or three days after the end of your period, when your breasts are less likely to be tender or swollen. If you do not have a period, try to do the exam on the same day each month.
  • Stand in front of a mirror and look at your breasts from different directions (arms to the side, arms over head, hands on hips).
  • Lie on your back and feel for changes. Use light, medium, and firm pressure with small, circular motions in an up-and-down pattern. Then check from your collarbone to just below your breast and from the center of your chest to your armpit.
  • If you find a lump, don’t panic. About 80% of breast lumps are not cancer.
  • Tell your health care provider if you have any unusual lumps or breast changes.
  • Be familiar with your breasts so you recognize any changes. Some women’s breast tissue is naturally more dense or lumpy.

HCI's Breast Cancer Program provides comprehensive, compassionate, state-of-the-art care. Our mission is to guide each patient through the decision-making process of risk evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment for breast cancer.

This provides a brief overview of cancer screening for the general public. People with a family or personal history of cancer, or with concerns about their risk of cancer, should discuss individual cancer screening recommendations with their doctor. 

Cervical Cancer Screening

cervical screening cardScreening for cervical cancer can catch the disease early, when it’s easier to treat. Cervical cancer screening includes the Pap test and HPV testing. Cervical cancer screening detects cancer or abnormalities that may lead to cancer of the cervix.

What Cervical Cancer Screening Is Right For You?

Pap Test: Your health care provider gently collects cells from your cervix and vagina with a piece of cotton, brush, or small wooden stick. The cells are checked in a lab. This procedure is also called a Pap smear. A Pap test is recommended every 3 years for women ages 21-65.

HPV Test: This tests your DNA or RNA for certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV) infection, which is the leading cause of cervical cancer. This test
may be done using the sample of cells removed during a Pap test. Women ages 30-65 may get a Pap test with an HPV co-test every 5 years.

Women who have received the HPV vaccine still need regular cervical screening. If your screening test result is abnormal, you may need to have more tests done to find out if you have cancer.

Huntsman Cancer Institute’s Gynecology Cancer Program diagnoses and treats all cancers of the female reproductive tract, including ovarian, endometrial/ uterine, cervical, vaginal, and vulvar cancers. Our multidisciplinary team includes specialists in the screening and prevention of gynecologic cancers.

This provides a brief overview of cancer screening for the general public. People with a family or personal history of cancer, or with concerns about their risk of cancer, should discuss individual cancer screening recommendations with their doctor. 

Colorectal Cancer Screening

colonoscopy inforgraphicColonscopy

A colonoscopy is an exam that checks for abnormal tissue in your colon. Everybody age 50 or over should get a colonoscopy. Some people may need one sooner. Talk to your doctor about what is best for you.

Many people have questions about how a colonoscopy is done. The day before your colonoscopy, your doctor may have you on a clear liquid diet. You will also drink a special medicine to clean out your colon. Right before the exam, your doctor will give you medication to make you feel more comfortable. During the exam, a small thin tube with a camera at the end is put into your rectum. This allows the doctor to check for polyps or growths. If your doctor finds a polyp, he or she can remove it and check it for cancer. Removing polyps often prevents cancer.

Ask your health insurance company about your colorectal cancer screening coverage. If you do not have health insurance or do not have enough health insurance, ask your doctor to call the Utah Cancer Control Program at 1-800-717-1811 to see if you qualify for a free colonoscopy. Medicare and/or Medicaid coverage may be available for those who qualify.

To learn more, view our Colonoscopies Infographic or watch the Introduction to Colonoscopy video below, or listen to this Scope Radio Podcast "How Accurate is a Colonoscopy?"

Introduction to Colonoscopy 



To schedule a colonoscopy at Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI), call 801-587-7000. HCI's Gastrointestinal Cancer Program diagnoses and treats all cancers of the digestive system, including cancers of the colon and rectum.

This provides a brief overview of cancer screening for the general public. People with a family or personal history of cancer, or with concerns about their risk of cancer, should discuss individual cancer screening recommendations with their doctor. 

Lung Cancer Screening

lung cancer screening

Lung cancer screening isn’t for everyone. The National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) recommends
screening for certain people at high risk. Read the NCCN’s guidelines for lung cancer screening in the blue box to the left.

Low-Dose CT scan

Lung cancer screening is done with a low-dose spiral computed tomography (LDCT) scan. This scan is like a regular CT scan, but less radiation is used. You won’t need to drink or inject any contrast.

Lung cancer screening can find cancer at an earlier stage, when it is easier to treat. Screening may also find diseases in the chest other than lung cancer that may need to be treated.

If your scan shows something that looks abnormal, a doctor at Huntsman Cancer Institute will schedule an appointment to talk about the results. If no problems are found, you will receive a letter that gives you follow-up recommendations.

What are the risks of lung cancer screening?

LDCT scanning exposes you to radiation. The radiation dose from a LDCT scan equals about 10 chest x-rays.

LDCT scans cannot tell if an area of concern is cancerous or not. To find out if cancer is present, you may need more tests. This means you may be exposed to more radiation or invasive tests.

LDCT scans may not find cancer that is there.

Not all lung cancers are the same. Some slow-growing cancers may never result in death. Aggressively treating these cancers may not be necessary.

Finding something abnormal on the scan, which may or may not be cancer, can cause you distress and affect your quality of life. Many of the scan’s findings are not cancer.

Talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of lung cancer screening before getting an exam.

To schedule an appointment at Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI), call 801-585-0100. HCI's Lung Cancer Program offers consultation, diagnosis, and treatment for cancers of the lungs, chest wall, trachea, and mediastinum. The program’s multidisciplinary team of specialists, including thoracic surgeons, medical oncologists, pulmonologists, pathologists, radiation oncologists and radiologists, provides consultations along with diagnostic and therapeutic services.

There is no standard or routine screening test for prostate cancer. Screening tests for prostate cancer are under study, and there are screening clinical trials taking place in many parts of the country. More information about ongoing studies is available from our clinical trials office. People with a family or personal history of cancer, or with concerns about their risk of cancer, should discuss individual cancer screening recommendations with their doctor.

Tests being studied to help detect prostate cancer include the following:

  • Digital rectal exam (DRE): This is an exam of the rectum. The doctor or nurse inserts a lubricated, gloved finger into the lower part of the rectum to feel the prostate for lumps or anything else that seems unusual.
  • Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test: This is a test that measures the level of PSA in the blood. PSA is a substance made mostly by the prostate that may be found in an increased amount in the blood of men who have prostate cancer. The level of PSA may also be high in men who have an infection or inflammation of the prostate or benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH; an enlarged, but noncancerous, prostate).

    If a man has a high PSA level and a biopsy of the prostate does not show cancer, a prostate cancer gene 3 (PCA3) test may be done. This test measures the amount of PCA3 in the urine. If the PCA3 level is high, another biopsy may help diagnose prostate cancer. Scientists are studying the combination of PSA testing and digital rectal exam as a way to get more accurate results from the screening tests.

Huntsman Cancer Institute’s Urology Cancer Program diagnoses and treats all cancers of the urinary tract, including adrenocortical, bladder, prostate, kidney, testicular, ureter, urethra, and penile. Learn more about prostate cancer screening from the National Cancer Institute.

This provides a brief overview of cancer screening for the general public. People with a family or personal history of cancer, or with concerns about their risk of cancer, should discuss individual cancer screening recommendations with their doctor. 

Skin Cancer and Melanoma

Skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer. There are three main types: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma.

Melanoma is the most deadly of all skin cancers. If melanoma is found early, it is easier to treat. Talk to your health care provider right away if you see any of these warning signs.

To schedule a skin exam at Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI), call 801-581-2955. HCI's Melanoma Cancer Program diagnoses and treats melanoma, non-melanoma skin cancers, and other skin conditions. Contact the G. Mitchell Morris Cancer Learning Center to learn about HCI's annual free skin cancer screening.

skin exam moles

Also Look For:

  • "Ugly duckling" moles. Compare your moles to each other. If you have a mole that is different than your other moles, show it to a dermatologist.
  • Any sores, bumps, waxy-looking spots, or scaly patches that do not go away within a month may be skin cancer.

Skin Self-Examination

Huntsman Cancer Institute’s doctors recommend you check your skin monthly to get familiar with your own moles and freckles. Talk to a dermatologist right away if you see any changes.

  1. Check your skin completely; look at both sides of your body with your arms raised and lowered.
  2. Use a mirror for areas that are hard to see.
  3. Look at the backs of your legs, bottoms of your feet, and between your toes.
  4. Don’t forget to check your scalp. You can ask your hairstylist to help you do this.

Prevention Tips

Anyone can get skin cancer. Here are some ways to lower your risk:

  • Enjoy your natural skin color. Avoid tanning beds, sunlamps, and laying out.
  • Protect your skin and eyes from sun damage. Wear protective clothing such as long sleeves, pants, a hat, and sunglasses.
  • Cover exposed skin with SPF 30+ broad-spectrum sunscreen that contains zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. Reapply at least every two hours. SPF lip balm is also helpful.

HCI Resources

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