Cancer Screening in Men Over Age 40
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Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania
Last Modified: March 23, 2012
Cancer screening tests are designed to find cancer or pre-cancerous areas before there are any symptoms and, generally, when treatments are most successful. Learn more about screening tests. Various organizations have developed guidelines for cancer screening for men. While these guidelines vary slightly between different organizations, they cover the same basic screening tests. Screening tests for men begin after age 50s and screen for prostate and colorectal cancers. During routine health exams (at any age) your healthcare provider may also evaluate for cancers of the skin, mouth, thyroid and testes. Not all screening tests are right for everyone and your personal and family health history can affect which tests are right for you, so be sure to discuss this with your healthcare provider.
The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends that men make an informed decision with their doctor about whether to be tested for prostate cancer. Research has not yet proven that the potential benefits of testing outweigh the harms of testing and treatment. The American Cancer Society believes that men should not be tested without learning about what we know and don't know about the risks and possible benefits of testing and treatment. Starting at age 50, talk to your doctor about the pros and cons of testing so you can decide if testing is the right choice for you. If you are African American or have a father or brother who had prostate cancer before age 65, you should have this talk with your doctor starting at age 45. If you decide to be tested, you should have the PSA blood test with or without a rectal exam. How often you are tested will depend on your PSA level. For more information, please see Prostate Cancer: Early Detection.
Testicular cancer screening
The majority of testicular cancers occur between the ages of 15 and 45. All men should examine their testicles regularly, be familiar with their normal look and feel and report any changes to their healthcare provider for further investigation.
Skin cancer screening
Skin cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed today and is one of the easiest to prevent or detect early. Remember that people of all skin tones can, and do, get skin cancer. Start by practicing sun safety, including using a broad spectrum sunscreen (protects against UVA & UVB rays) every day, avoiding peak sun times (10am-4pm, when the rays are strongest) and wearing protective clothing such as hats, sunglasses and long sleeved shirts. Examine your skin regularly so you become familiar with any moles or birthmarks. If a mole has changed in any way, including a change in size, shape, or color, has developed scaliness, bleeding, or oozing, or has become itchy or painful, or you develop a sore that will not heal, you should have a healthcare provider examine the area. If you have many moles, it may be helpful to make note of moles using pictures or a mole map. SkinCancerNet has a helpful guide to performing a skin exam. Learn more about the types of skin cancer on OncoLink and the American Academy of Dermatology's SkinCancerNet and the Skin Cancer Foundation.
Colorectal Cancer Screening
Most men and women, over the age of 50 should undergo routine screening for colon and rectal cancer. Testing may be appropriate for younger people with a high risk personal or family health history.
Options for screening for colon cancer can be divided into those that screen for both cancer and polyps and those that screen just for cancer. Tests that screen for cancer and polyps include flexible sigmoidoscopy, colonoscopy, double-contrast barium enema or CT colonography (virtual colonoscopy). Tests that screen mainly for cancer include stool testing for blood or stool DNA testing. Learn more about the CRC screening options. The ""preferred screening"" of the American College of Gastroenterologists is colonoscopy every 10 years for people with average colon cancer risk. The ACS recommends that average risk individuals begin screening at age 50 with one of the following:
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5 years, or
- Colonoscopy every 10 years, or
- Double-contrast barium enema every 5 years, or
- CT colonography (virtual colonoscopy) every 5 years
Individuals at higher risk of colon cancer should have screening earlier and potentially more frequently. Individuals at higher risk of colon and rectal cancer include:
- Individuals with a family history of colon or rectal cancer in a relative who was diagnosed before the age of 60
- Individuals with a history of polyps
- Individuals with inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis)
- Individuals with a predisposition to colon or rectal cancer, such as individuals with as hereditary non-polyposis colon cancer (HNPCC) syndrome or familial adenotous polyposis (FAP) syndrome
For more detailed information regarding screening for colon cancer, see the ACS site describing guidelines for screening for high-risk individuals and the American College of Gastroenterology document on screening guidelines for high-risk populations.
For More Information on cancer screening
Visit the American Cancer Society to learn more about general screening test recommendations. Visit the US Department of Health & Human Services for recommended health screenings for men at any age or men over 50.