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Cancer Screening Overview (PDQ®)

Who Needs to Be Screened?

Certain screening tests may be suggested only for people who have a high risk for certain cancers.

Anything that increases the chance of cancer is called a cancer risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get cancer; not having risk factors doesn’t mean that you will not get cancer.

Some screening tests are used only for people who have known risk factors for certain types of cancer. People known to have a higher risk of cancer than others include those who:

  • Have had cancer in the past; or
  • Have two or more first-degree relatives (a parent, brother, or sister) who have had cancer; or
  • Have certain gene mutations (changes) that have been linked to cancer.

People who have a high risk of cancer may need to be screened more often or at an earlier age than other people.

Cancer screening research includes finding out who has an increased risk of cancer.

Scientists are trying to better understand who is likely to get certain types of cancer. They study the things we do and the things around us to see if they cause cancer. This information helps doctors figure out who should be screened for cancer, which screening tests should be used, and how often the tests should be done.

Since 1973, the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program of the National Cancer Institute has been collecting information on people with cancer from different parts of the United States. Information from SEER, research studies, and other sources is used to study who is at risk.

  • Updated: July 2, 2014