Skip to main content

How to Know if You Need Extra Cancer Screening

Read Time: 4 minutes

Close up on provider's hands gesturing over a clipboard while patient sits next to them

Finding cancer early, before symptoms appear, makes it easier to treat cancer. Cancer screening is a way to find cancer early. Huntsman Cancer Institute outlines recommendations for cancer screening and cancer prevention, which are appropriate for most people.

These general recommendations may not be enough for certain people, however. People with certain risk factors, such as a family history of cancer, may need more screenings or risk-reducing options. The Family Cancer Assessment Clinic can figure out an appropriate screening plan based on your personal health history and family history.

What is cancer screening?

Cancer screening is a way to check your body for cancer before you show symptoms. Cancer screening can be done through physical exams, imaging (exams that look inside certain areas of the body), tests done at home (stool tests) and/or laboratory tests (testing blood, urine, or other tissue).

No screening test can look for all cancers. That is why Huntsman Cancer Institute recommends different screening types for different cancers. Talk to your doctor or health care provider about which cancer screenings are right for you.

Why should I get cancer screening?

Finding cancer early, before symptoms appear, makes it easier to treat or cure. Cancer screening is an important step to finding cancer at the earliest possible stage. Cancer screening saves lives.

What types of screening should I be doing?

The type of screening recommended for you is based on your sex,  age, and family history. Huntsman Cancer Institute provides a detailed description of each type of cancer screening and who should get cancer screening at different ages during their life. People who are considered to be at average risk for cancer should follow these recommendations.

People who are considered to be at increased risk for cancer because of their personal or family history should have more screening or different screening tests.

How do I know if I need more screening?

Certain risk factors increase the chance of getting cancer. If you have any of these risk factors, your doctor may recommend more frequent screening or different types of screening for you. These are common risk factors:

  • Having a personal or family history of cancer, especially breast cancer, colon cancer, prostate cancer, pancreatic cancer, or melanoma
  • Exposure to these cancer-causing factors:
    • Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection may increase risk for cervical as well as head and neck cancers
    • Tobacco may increase the risk for lung, mouth, colon, pancreatic, and throat cancers
    • Sun or ultraviolet (UV) exposure may increase skin cancer risk
  • Physical features:
    • Having many moles on your skin may increase skin cancer risk
    • Having colon polyps may increase colorectal cancer risk
  • Genetic risk factors

If you have any of these risk factors, tell your doctor or health care provider to learn if you would benefit from more cancer screenings or different cancer screenings.

If I have any of these risk factors, is there anything I can do?

It is never too late to take steps to lower your cancer risk. People with one or more risk factors may also need to take extra cancer prevention steps in addition to cancer screening. For example, some medications can reduce risk for certain types of cancers. People with genetic risk factors for cancer may need surgeries that decrease their risk for developing cancer.

You and your doctor make these decisions together after discussing the risks and benefits of taking these steps.

How do I lower my cancer risk?

In addition to cancer screening to detect cancer early, there are ways to help lower the chances that you get cancer in the future. These are steps you can take to stay healthy and prevent cancer:

  • Eat healthy foods. Diets high in fruits and vegetables and low in fats and red or processed meats can help prevent cancer.
  • Be physically active. Exercise for at least 30 minutes each day.
  • Avoid tobacco. Avoid all forms of tobacco, including cigarettes, e-cigarettes, vaping, and chewing tobacco.
  • Know your family history. Talk to your doctor about your own health history and your family’s health history.
  • Protect your skin from the sun and practice sun safety: cover your skin with long sleeves and long pants, put on a hat, wear sunglasses, and wear sunscreen.
  • Limit alcohol consumption.
  • Get the HPV and hepatitis B vaccinations.

Where can I learn more?

You can schedule a genetic counseling appointment in the Family Cancer Assessment Clinic. We offer visits by phone, video, or in person. To make a genetic counseling appointment, call 801-587-9555.

During the appointment, a genetic counselor reviews your medical and family history and discusses your cancer risks. The counselor may order genetic testing, which can help determine your personal cancer risks. They can also make a cancer screening or risk reduction plan for you based on this evaluation.

Cancer touches all of us.