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    Lifesaving Tests for Women

    Test Your Breasts continued...

    Check with your doctor about how often you should get the test and at what age. There are different recommendations from health organizations. The American Cancer Society calls for a yearly mammogram starting at age 45, and every 2 years at 55. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), on the other hand, says women 50 to 74 should have mammograms every other year.

    Most health groups don't recommend breast self-exams anymore. But it can't hurt to be familiar with the way your breasts look, so you'll know if there are new lumps or growths.

    Test for Cervical Cancer

    Get a Pap test, which checks for abnormal cells in your cervix that could turn into cancer. It's a powerful way to prevent the disease. The USPSTF says women 21 to 65 should get one every 3 years.

    If you're 30 to 65, you've got a choice. You can keep getting a Pap test every 3 years, or you can get it along with an HPV test every 5 years. That other test is useful because most cervical cancers are caused by an infection with HPV (human papillomavirus).

    If you're over 65, check with your doctor to see if you need to keep up the Pap and HPV tests, and how often.


    Colorectal cancer usually begins with growths in your colon called polyps. One key test that looks for those is called a colonoscopy.

    Your doctor will use a flexible tube with a tiny camera on the end to check for polyps. He can usually remove any that he spots. They'll be sent to a lab where a technician checks for signs of cancer.

    "If results are normal, it's good for 10 years," Thacker says. "So get it done, starting at age 50."

    Check for Skin Cancer

    It's the most common cancer in the U.S. One in five Americans will get it at some point in their lives.

    "Get a good skin check yearly, and in between, be aware of moles that may have changed, or any differences in the texture or quality of your skin," Thacker says. She calls those steps "vital." 

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