Breast and Cervical cancer screening for teens

Christina S. Chu, MD
Last Modified: September 8, 2002

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Question

Dear OncoLink "Ask The Experts,"

Is there a certain age that you should be worrying about breast cancer and cervical cancer or should I be worrying about it as a teenager too?

 

Answer

Christina S. Chu, MD, Assistant Professor of the Division of Gynecologic Oncology at the University of Pennsylvania Health System, responds:

While teenagers are at low risk for cervical and breast cancer, it is never too early to get into good habits for cancer screening.

In regards to cervical cancer, gynecologists recommend that you start having yearly pelvic exams and Pap tests as soon as you are sexually active, or when you turn 18, whichever comes first. After 3 negative yearly Pap tests, you can discuss with your doctor if you can have them less frequently, or if you should continue to have them yearly. Some personal advice: one of the best things you can do to prevent cervical cancer, aside from regular Pap tests, is to stop smoking or never start in the first place.

In regards to breast cancer, unless you have a family history of breast and/or ovarian cancer, the general recommendations are that you need your first mammogram as a "baseline" test around the age of 40. Until then, it is important that you perform monthly self-breast exams to check for lumps and cysts. While breast cancer in teens is very rare, if you notice anything that is abnormal for you, you should bring it to the attention of your doctor.